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2019 NHL Draft: If Cole Caufield is there for the Penguins, he’d make a great choice

There may be some risk, but there’s a lot of reward taking a skilled forward

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Yesterday we took a general 2019 NHL draft preview of some first round prospects. Today will be a deeper dive into probably the most intriguing non-top 5 pick, forward Cole Caufield.

The Athletic’s guru Corey Pronman adds his scouting report back at mid-year, ranking Caufield #19.

19 Cole Caufield, RW, USNTDP-USHL

Caufield is known for one thing: scoring goals. He’s one of the best American snipers to ever come through the USNTDP. His shot is not only incredibly quick but very accurate. He’s not going to pick a corner every shot, but he does so quite often for a guy who leans into shots like he does. He’s not just a shooter, though. He’s got great hands and vision, with the ability to make plays in open ice and off the rush. He’s not as great a skater as you’d hope for at 5-foot-7, but he’s an above-average speedster. His size is his main drawback and I’m skeptical that he’ll be as impactful in the NHL as in junior, but I still think he’ll be a very good pro.

A lot of the mid-season rankings put him in the range of a late round pick, but that could be changing in a major way due to just a monster season from a player who isn’t in a monster stature, size-wise. Check it from the USA Today:

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.”

Most of those goals have come while playing with Jack Hughes, who up until now was thought of as the number one overall pick for 2019. So Caufield has that in common with Alex DeBrincat too, who tore it up pre-draft with another number one overall in Connor McDavid.

Fears of DeBrincat’s size pushed him out of the first round in 2016, and the Chicago Blackhawks scooped him up at 39th overall. After one more year in juniors, DeBrincat has been an instant NHL’er, scoring 52 points (28 goals + 24 assists) in 82 games last season as a 20-year old and improved on that with a 71 points campaign (38g+33a) so far this season.

DeBrincat’s 66 goals since coming into the league rank 7th among all NHL wingers, quite the accomplishment. As the league moves to more skill and skating, the onus on size has never mattered less if a player has the hands and wheels to score. It’s apparent at the lower levels, Caufield has that in spades.

The success he’s had this season might not even leave Caufield on the board by the time the Penguins end up stepping to the podium to make their pick. In the USA Today article above, they have Caufield rising to the 12th overall pick. He’s definitely going to be seen as a riser, but perhaps teams will still shy away afraid of picking a 5’7 kid so high.

The Pens were willing to take a 150 pound Jake Guentzel in the third round and bet he would physically mature, and that paid off, so the final product has to be considered more than the current measurables. Caufield would represent the type of high-risk, high-reward pick that could really help Pittsburgh out. If he’s available when they pick, it should definitely warrant a strong consideration. There probably won’t be anyone else still on the board in the mid/late first round that has such a high ceiling.