It’s either college hockey or the Montreal Canadiens for Cole Caufield

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - JUNE 21: Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The future of college hockey is up in the air this season for Cole Caufield, and if he can’t play for the Wisconsin Badgers, he wants the Montreal Canadiens.

It’s an interesting yet anxious time of year for sports. Professional hockey has already started in Europe via the KHL and Liiga leagues, to name a few, but in North America, there a lot of question marks. The NHL is still wrapping up its 2019-20 season as the playoffs are in their Conference Finals, but other teams, including the Montreal Canadiens, are wondering what’s going to happen next season for them and their prospects. And here is where Cole Caufield comes in.

The Habs have already loaned some of their European players to other teams, such as Otto Leskinen and Lukas Vejdemo. CHL and college prospects like Cole Caufield are another story.

Caufield has started his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin taking online classes while practices with the Badgers hockey team. It was made official Thursday that division 1 hockey would be delayed:

"The eleven Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey conferences, represented by the Hockey Commissioners Association (HCA), are committed to providing memorable competitive experiences for our student-athletes during the upcoming season. The conferences have been working together on plans to return with a focus on the health and safety of everyone associated with our campus communities. Due to the impact COVID-19 continues to have across the country and within higher education, the start of competition for the Division I college hockey season will be delayed. Each conference will announce details on game schedules, including the start dates, individually. We look forward to our players and fans enjoying the college hockey experience this season."

And to make matters even heavier, team activities are being paused for another two weeks as the school awaits test results.

If the entire season is cancelled, Caufield will have to weigh his options as to where he plays. When we initially talked about this, we brought up the idea of the 2019 first-round pick playing in the OHL with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who have his CHL rights as the AHL having a season, is still up in the air. But now we know the Ontario league isn’t an avenue Caufield is entertaining.

In an interview with The Athletic’s Arpon Basu (subscription required), Caufield made it clear that it’s college or the Montreal Canadiens this season saying:

"I just don’t feel like that’s a really good option for me, even though they could start whenever they do. In college, just playing against older guys and stuff, I don’t think (the OHL) would prepare me enough. So I think the best option would be to just sign (with the Canadiens) if the college season doesn’t happen."

Caufield is right. The OHL is more of a “skill league”, and many believe NCAA hockey better prepares you for the grind of the NHL than the CHL. Playing in the OHL may be a downgrade in the quality of competition for Caufield, and that’s not what he needs in his development.

Obviously, this would be a fast-track for the path the Montreal Canadiens wanted to have him on this season. Caufield likely would’ve gotten a deal after his sophomore season ended in Wisconsin to join the Habs at the end of the season. With college hockey at least being pushed back to January, things could align such that Caufield starts the 2020-21 season with the Canadiens as the December 1st target date is now looking less likely.

Many say the NHL isn’t a development league, but it would be interesting to see Caufield on the team next season if college hockey is cancelled. It’s better than having him sit all year even if the adjustment will be harder considering the gap between playing.

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