U.S.-born NHL draft prospect Cole Caufield should be judged, not by the company he keeps, but rather the company he left behind when he set a new scoring record for the U.S. National Team Development Program.
With 106 goals over two seasons, the Wisconsin native has more goals than anyone who has played at the USNTDP. That list includes Phil Kessel, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin.
“It is a ‘wow’ record,” said former NHL goalie John Vanbiesbrouck, now USA Hockey’s assistant executive director of hockey operations.
Caufield scored 54 goals in 59 games in 2017-18, and he has 52 in 53 games this season. He scored six goals in one United States Hockey League game this year.
“I think Cole has proven that he is cut out of the Alex DeBrincat mold,” Vanbiesbrouck said
The comparison to DeBrincat is important because Caufield is 5-7, 165 pounds. “In the game today, we say size doesn’t matter, but some (teams) still struggle with size,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “He’s shown that it really doesn’t matter for him.”
That seems to be true because word around the NHL is that Caufield’s draft status has risen all season. Some scouts say he could land in the top 10 in the June draft.
It has helped Caufield that DeBrincat, similar in size, has scored 38 goals for the Blackhawks this season.
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Caufield’s primary asset is a sizzling shot with a quick release. “There are very few players like him,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “You put to the puck on his stick and he releases it immediately. He’s the consummate catch-and-release player.
The interesting aspect of Caufield’s rise is that he could go in the top 10 or 12 picks and still be the fifth player from his team selected in the draft.
Jack Hughes, still expected to go No. 1 overall, is the top player on what may be the most talented team the USNTD program has ever produced. Eight players from that team could be drafted in the first round.
With NHL season winding down, here is USA TODAY Sports’ first mock draft for teams that are in the draft lottery today, sorted by current points-per-game in NHL standings:
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1. Colorado Avalanche (from Senators): Center Jack Hughes (USA), 5-10, 170: Hughes will have a Patrick Kane-like impact in the NHL. He’s dynamic, fast and creative.
2. Los Angeles Kings: Center/wing Kaapo Kakko (Finland), 6-2, 194: Broke Aleksander Barkov’s record for most goals by NHL draft-eligible player in the Finnish League. He has 22 goals in 45 games for TPS Turku playing against Finland’s pros.
3. Detroit Red Wings: Right wing Vasily Podkolzin (Russia), 6-1, 190: Impressive shot. Sharp passer. Will power his way to the net. Will be a top line performer in the NHL.
4. New Jersey Devils: Center Dylan Cozens (Canada), 6-3, 180: Can contribute physical play as well as offense. In 68 games, he has 34 goals and 84 points in the Western Hockey League.
5. Anaheim Ducks: Center Alex Turcotte (USA), 5-11, 185: Possesses the speed, playmaking ability and savvy to be a scoring line center in the NHL. He’s a noteworthy two-way player.
6. New York Rangers: Center Trevor Zegras (USA), 6-0, 170: Headed to Boston University. Smart, gifted offensive catalyst. In 52 games for the USNTDP, he has 23 goals, 74 points and 80 penalty minutes
7. Buffalo Sabres: Defenseman Bowen Byram (Canada), 6-1, 185: Best offensive defenseman in the draft. Plays with a swagger. Has generated 26 goals and 71 points in the Western Hockey League.
8. Vancouver Canucks: Left wing Matthew Boldy (USA), 6-1, 187: Committed to Boston College. He has 28 goals and 66 points in 53 games for the USNTDP Under-18 team this season.
9. Edmonton Oilers: Center Kirby Dach (Canada), 6-4, 200: No. 2 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings. Boasts 25 goals and 73 points in 62 games in the WHL.
10. Chicago Blackhawks: Right wing Arthur Kaliyev (Canada), 6-2, 185: Born in Staten Island, New York, Kaliyev has posted 51 goals and 102 points in the Ontario Hockey League.
11. Minnesota Wild: Right wing Cole Caufield (USA), 5-7, 162: Can pull you out of your seat with his dynamic presence.
12. Florida Panthers: Goalie Spencer Knight (USA), 6-3, 190: Has committed to Boston College. Viewed as a franchise goalie.
13. Arizona Coyotes: Defenseman Thomas Harley (Canada), 6-3, 190: Skates impressively and moves the puck with flair. Boasts 11 goals and 58 points for in the OHL.
14. Philadelphia Flyers: Center Peyton Krebs (Canada), 5-11, 180: Plays with overflowing passion and energy. Has generated 68 points in 64 games in the WHL.