As the Canadiens turn the page on a new chapter for this team, it is important to remember that the constant influx of young talent will be crucial to this team’s success. Despite being up against the Cap for the upcoming season, Bergevin has afforded himself some wiggle room starting in 2021-22. With that said Entry Level Contracts (ELC) will become a premium, so it is a good thing that Bergevin stocked the cupboards with prospects.
While the pipeline may be reaching max capacity on the back end, the Canadiens do not have as much offensive help on the horizon. With the promotion of Suzuki and Kotkaniemi to the big club, the Habs only have a couple names that really catch your attention. Ignoring the addition of Mysak, Tuch and Farrell from this past draft, the only sure fire prospect of note is Cole Caufield. Yes I understand that this is doing a major disservice to the develop of guys like Ryan Poehling, Lukas Vejdemo, Cam Hillis and Jesse Ylonen, but I am not holding my breath on any of them truth be told (Hillis is likely make it as a bottom six Forward).
When it comes to Caufield, the Canadiens cannot afford to screw up his development. He has a shot that only a short list of NHLers can compare with now. He does not possess a Weber bomb, nor do I really think the 1-timer clapper is in his arsenal, but his release is so technically perfect it is borderline erotic. The problem with his game is that his speed is not yet at a NHL level, and he still needs to work on using his body to protect the puck. This is why I love the NCAA for Caufield, with the smaller schedule, Caufield has more time to develop himself off the ice as much as he can on it. The NCAA also gives the Canadiens an additional year to sign him to a ELC compared to the any of the three leagues in the CHL. While I hope it doesn’t get to that point, the Habs have a clear history of being completely unable to protect their prospects against their own development. Case and point, Alex Galchenyuk, but that is a whole different conversation.
Before jumping into the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), I would just like to point out that staying at Wisconsin is the best case scenario for Caufield. I wish that Turcotte (LAK ’19 1st) was still there to be his line mate, but Dylan Holloway is an amazing consolation prize, if you even want to call him that. Despite the lack of team success, Caufield enjoyed a lot of personal success finishing as the leading scorer in the Big 10 along with a Rookie of the Year award. He is close to his family and he is playing under a world class coach in Tony Granato. The problem lies in the fact that I am nervous about a long drawn out wait for a NCAA season that will never come to fruition. The season start date is currently set for November 13th, but if the season does not get underway, how long does Bergevin wait before moving on to a Plan B?
The SHL really came onto the scene for the casual North American fan when Elias Pettersson came over for the Canucks. Amidst the Pandemic, and in an attempt to get their young prospects on the ice, some NHL teams (Detroit) have already begun sending their prospects over to the SHL, including Montreal native Joey Veleno (Malmo) and Moritz Seider (Rogle). With the SHL’s ‘Bye Week’ on the horizon, it would not surprise to me see a few more GMs working the phones to try and acquire young NHL prospects.
The rumours of Caufield to Rogle began in late September and really started to get going after Raphael Lavoie (EDM ’19 2nd) was cut. The team is managed by Canadian twin brothers, Chris (GM) and Cam (Head Coach) Abbott. The Sarnia natives were both appointed to their current position part way through the 2017-18. Since then, the team has a seen a steady improvement over the years, culminating in their 7-0-1-2 (W-OTW-OTL-L) record to start the 2020-21 campaign. The team sits in a tie for 2nd in the SHL, and if it had not been for COVID, they would be eyeing for spot in the Champions Hockey League (think UEFA Champions League but for hockey).
While goal scoring is not a concern for this team they only have one player ranking in the top ten in league scoring and it is a defenseman (Éric Gélinas). Adding more goal scoring ability is never a bad thing, and Caufield would round out a highly potent offensive attack for this team. Prior to his injury, Adam Tambillini was centering one of the most explosive lines in the league playing along side Daniel Zaar and Dennis Evenberg who rank second and third respectively in team scoring.
Where I think Caufield will fit in perfectly is on a line with Nils Hoglander (VAN ’19 2nd) and Simon Ryfors. Hoglander is an offensively gifted and elusive playmakers. His abilities with the puck are jaw dropping and he is very good at dragging opposing defenders out of position to create space for his teammates and to open up passing lanes that you didn’t now were there. He is a pass first player, especially at this point in his career and development which is proof by his 5 assists and no goals through 10 games. Hoglander also possess elite analytical numbers, and while I am not personally a fan of Corsi, he ranks near the top of the league in this category. Ryfors is enjoying his best start to a season in his career. After only 10 games he is 1 goal shy of tying his career high in a season and his current 0.7 Points Per Game is double his career best set last season. He has modest size but he is a good skater and would simply need to be a facilitator between Hoglander and Caufield, in order for this line to score.
This would certainly be a very young and inexperienced line, but Rogle has the talent and depth to be able to protect this line against any adversity. As I eluded to earlier, the SHL is a considerable step up in play from the NCAA, and the larger ice may not be the perfect fit for Caufield’s style, but it will force him to work on the weaker parts of his game, without abandoning his typical offensively-driven game. The SHL is an up tempo, possession driven league and the pace will naturally force Caufield to play and think quicker. He will be forced to develop the playmaking side of his game, as the Rogle’s game plan will be designed around keeping possession of the puck.
Despite this open ice, Caufield will be playing against men, and though this league lacks the physicality of North American hockey, it is a stepping stone to develop into a NHL ready player. One of the benefits to playing in the NCAA is that it is more similar to the NHL style of play, and the player’s are older and more physically matured than in the junior leagues. However, the SHL is still a men’s league making it a step above the NCAA in this regard. Most of the players in the SHL have moved past the ‘developmental’ phase and are fully matured adults. So while you may not see the same open ice hits or hip checks along the boards, Caufield will still have to earn every inch of space on the ice and his ability to hold onto the puck in tight areas will be tested.
The final note of importance is that the SHL season finishes earlier than the NHL season. Despite Sweden’s Herd Immunity approach to COVID, the SHL has still felt the affects of the pandemic. The league cancelled their Playoffs last year as the Pandemic hit right right when they were scheduled to start, and a few games this season have been cancelled as well. Assuming everything continues as planned, the league’s regular season is set to finish mid-March before the jump into the playoffs. With the NHL’s tentative start date set for January 1st (looking like this will be pushed back as well), Caufield could go to Sweden, play out the season with Rogle and still come back to join the Habs in the latter half of their season in an attempt to make a push for the playoffs (Cap permitting).
Drafting and developing a player is an inexact science, so this article is not to say that Rogle is the best and only path forward for Caufield. If he is happy in his current setting then there is no reason to move him to a foreign country across the Atlantic. Whether it is under Tony Granato or the Abbott brothers, Caufield needs to start seeing the ice sooner rather than later.
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