Montreal Canadiens: Cole Caufield’s Wisconsin Team Loses Another Key Veteran

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Cole Caufield (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Cole Caufield (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens really wanted Cole Caufield to return to school for a second year, but his team has lost most of its core pieces.

The Montreal Canadiens were ecstatic that Cole Caufield fell to them at the 2019 NHL Draft. The team had the 15th overall pick and were sure to get an exciting prospect in a deep draft, but most draft pundits had this excellent goal scorer going before the Habs had a chance to select him.

However, because of his size, Caufield was passed over for players who put up far less points. Even teammates of his that were nowhere near as potent offensively went ahead of the Wisconsin native.

After being taken by the Habs, Caufield enrolled at college in his home state. The Wisconsin Badgers had an excellent recruiting class, headlined by Caufield, Alex Turcotte and Dylan Holloway but it didn’t really translate to on-ice success. Well, it didn’t translate into team success but Caufield was terrific.

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After setting plenty of records during his time with the United States Development Program – most notably scoring the most goals ever in a season with 72 in 64 games – Caufield headed off to college with high expectations. He started strong and continued to play well all year long, finishing his freshman campaign with 19 goals and 36 points in 36 games.

His team wasn’t quite so fortunate as they finished last in the Big-Ten Conference standings before losing in the opening round of the conference playoffs. Still, the Habs wanted Caufield to return for another year of college hockey to build up his strength and he agreed.

Though his team was not fantastic on the ice last season, it is starting to sound like Caufield will have even less help around him next season on the Badgers. When you factor in graduations, transfers and players leaving early to sign pro contracts, there isn’t much left for the 19 year old Habs prospect to work with.

Yesterday, it was announced that Wyatt Kalynuk had signed a pro contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. While Caufield’s 36 points led the Badgers in scoring, Kalynuk was the team’s power play quarterback and the defenceman was second in team scoring with 28 points. Kalynuk turning pro when he had one year of eligibility left was just another reminder of all the top players that have left the program this summer.

Turcotte was third on the team in points with 26 in just 29 games. The fourth overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft decided to forego the remainder of his college eligibility by signing an entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings.

K’Andre Miller was the team’s number one defenceman last year and he elected to sign with the New York Rangers instead of returning to Wisconsin for a third season. Losing Miller and Kalynuk takes away the team’s top two defenders which is going to leave Tyler Inamoto and Ty Emberson, who played World Juniors last year, to take on a heavier load on the back end.

Also leaving Wisconsin are Sean Dhooghe, a very small, but extraordinary scrapper and fairly skilled winger. He transferred to the Arizona Sun Devils. Max Zimmer was a linemate of Caufield’s late in the season and finished strong with seven goals and nine points in his last eight games. However, he graduated and signed with the Charlotte Checkers.

In all, five of their top 11 scorers from last season are gone. That is a lot of firepower to lose for a team that went 14-20-2 last season. I guess with so many players electing to leave early, they can thank their luck stars that Caufield did decide to stay.

Staying with him next year are Ty Pelton-Byce who centred Caufield’s line late in the season. The Madison, Wisconsin native transferred to his hometown school after two years playing at Harvard and finished the regular season strong. He scored 24 points in 32 games in total, but had 14 points in the team’s last 13 regular season games. Funny how these guys seem to put up lots of points when Caufield is on their wing.

Pelton-Byce is certainly a candidate to play with Caufield next season, and so is Dylan Holloway. He was a freshman last year with Caufield but didn’t have quite the same success. He battled through some ups and downs to score 17 points in 35 games and should be selected in the 2020 NHL Draft at around the same spot Caufield went last year.

He is a smart, fast, two-way player and can play centre or the wing. Holloway – Pelton-Byce – Caufield could be a strong line for the Badgers next season, even with Turcotte gone sooner than expected.

Roman Ahcan and Linus Weissbach should help the team score next year as well. Ahcan had 14 goals and 25 points last season while Weissbach scored 22 points in 35 games. The team also announced a few intriguing recruits like Sam Stange who scored 42 points in 44 USHL games and Matty De Saint Phalle who had 60 points in 49 USHL contests.

The jump to NCAA can be a steep one, but returnees Pelton-Byce, Holloway, Weissbach and Ahcan should give the Badgers some firepower to go with Caufield next season.

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Still, it will be hard not to wonder what they could have accomplished with Miller and Kalynuk on the back end for one more season and Turcotte playing first line centre with Caufield as sophomores.