Big Ten sports is deciding on what to do with its teams, and if hockey is cancelled, Montreal Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield will a place to play.
The college sports scene was hit with a bomb of information Sunday afternoon. It came out that The Big 10 is preparing to cancel its football season. That was massive huge considering how popular the sport at that level is in the United States. For some context, the Big 10 is one of the oldest and most popular Division I collegiate athletic conferences in the country, and they eclipse most sports, including hockey. This is where the Montreal Canadiens and Cole Caufield tie in.
The Big 10 includes Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue, and Wisconsin. There hasn’t been a decision made on whether hockey is going to be postponed as well, but if a top sport in football can be, then nothing is off the table.
Obviously, this affects Caufield, who just completed his freshman senior as a member of the Wisoncon Badgers. The 2019 first-round pick led all Big 10 players in scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists for 24 points in 24 games. He went on to be named Big 10 Rookie of the Year, setting himself up for an even bigger season in his sophomore year.
News like this is gutting, understandable, but gutting, and the question for Cole Caufield is where does he play?
The go-to route would be for him to jump to the professional leagues and join the Laval Rocket. It’s not the same pace and strain as the NHL, but it would be a good environment for Caufield to develop and iron out the wrinkles in his game. At the same time, Joël Bouchard is a good coach for the development of a talent like Caufield.
Unfortunately, the status of the AHL is up in the air as well. We’ve already seen organizations agree to loan their players to teams overseas and including the Montreal Canadiens. Otto Leskinen has been loaned to Kalpa Kuopio in Finland, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more of the European players do the same thing.
The next route would be the Canadian Hockey League as the OHL, QMJHL and WHL all have some sort of Return to Play Play on the works. Caufield has ties to the Ontario Hockey League as the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds drafted the winger in the 12th round of the 2018 OHL Priority Draft 240th overall.
Don’t be alarmed at where Caufield was taken. It doesn’t speak to his abilities as a player, but the point of the Priority Draft is to obtain rights to a player in the event that they join the league. Playing games for the U.S. National Team generally puts you on a path to pursue College hockey, so teams would rather use their earlier picks on players who will see time in the OHL.
With no Big 10 and a shaky view on the AHL, Caufield could head north and play in the Soo. Development wise, it could be a downgrade considering the OHL is known for being a skill league, and the 19-year-old already excels in that. The NCAA has a reputation of better preparing players for the NHL as the games are coached heavier, and there is more of a physical demand. However, beggars can’t be choosers and playing for the Greyhounds may give Caufield another year to dominate a league.
The final route is one the Montreal Canadiens are likely reluctant to do, which would be having him join the team. Marc Bergevin was clear he wanted Caufield to learn more with another season of college hockey under his belt, and that was his thought process around holding off his entry-level contract. But if there’s nowhere else to play, perhaps the Habs change their tune.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Big 10 hockey has already been postponed until at least January.
That would partly align along with the target start dates of the OHL and AHL, who are eying December 1st and 4th, respectively. The downside is that all of these are optimistic targets and not clear-cut confirmations, and that includes the NHL and their plans for the 2020-21 season.
It’s a ‘wait and see game’ for Cole Caufield. An unfortunate one, given what the next year could bring for him on the ice, but definitely an important one.