A checking line player with a projectable frame checks in in the Pensburgh list of the Top 25 players under the age of 25 this year at #20, in the form of Judd Caulfield from North Dakota.
2022 Pensburgh Top 25 Under 25: Graduates and Departed
#25: Nolan Collins
#24: Colin Swoyer
#23: Jonathan Gruden
#22: Ty Glover
#21: Kirill Tankov
#20: Judd Caulfield
2021 Ranking: #17
Age: 21 (March 19, 2001)
Height/Weight: 6’3”/207 lbs.
Acquired Via: 2019 NHL Draft - Round 5; Overall: 145
Hello, offense. After being mostly a deeper depth player for North Dakota in his first two seasons, Caulfield increased his statistical output as a junior. Naturally with experience and time, he’s climbing up the depth chart and lines and should be one of the key players next year on what is traditionally a very strong hockey program.
Caulfield is down a few spots from the 2021 Pensburgh T25U25 list, mostly as a result of the next few names on the list who have been recently added college free agents that are a step ahead of him at this moment in 2022. That doesn’t take away from the encouraging nature of Caulfield’s last season, however.
Playing mostly right wing this year, we can see below some of the instances where Caulfield took that step forward as a junior with some of these highlights.
The first one is some pretty passing, but also shows Caulfield’s hockey IQ to track the puck and be in position to collect it, pull it backhand and score when things break down a little. It’s a gift to be that open in front of the net, but a nice sign that this is a player capable of converting when the opportunity presents itself.
What. A. Goal.— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) March 19, 2022
Judd Caulfield (#LetsGoPens) finishes the tic-tac-toe passing play to get North Dakota on the board, leading Western Michigan 1-0 in the first period.
Assists to Riese Gaber (NCAA FA) and Connor Ford (NCAA FA) pic.twitter.com/ToJTR5xDnm
Caulfield is an all situations player for UND, killing penalties and now getting some work on the power play.
Judd brings us closer! #UNDproud | #LGH pic.twitter.com/7aaCcZFWVl— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) March 6, 2022
Here’s some of that short-handed work, with some intellect shown to stop at the front of the net, in case a pass was coming back.
Now THIS was pretty! #UNDproud | #LGH pic.twitter.com/OgqTRuSE96— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) February 27, 2022
For a player known more for his size, two-way work and defense, Caulfield showed some nice hands to pull out a curl and drag move on the rush on the power play. And, yeah, he got a little lucky with the bounce, but he made his own luck to get the puck going here, kinda a “the harder I work, the luckier I tend to be” situations.
This is getting silly#UNDproud | #LGH pic.twitter.com/VyU7fStWX8— North Dakota MHockey (@UNDmhockey) February 27, 2022
As Caulfield told the Post-Gazette recently about his time in Pittsburgh at last month’s development camp and dealing with the new regime of Ron Hextall.
“Ever since they’ve had the new GM, they have the same mantra. They want to win. They play fast, hard hockey, and that’s what I like to play my game like,” Caulfield said. “A lot of the development staff has stayed relatively the same, so I’ve kept in touch with those guys over the past two years, and they’ve been nothing but awesome toward me.”
Caulfield is a player who knows his role, which as written about every year, dates back to his days at the US National team. Surrounded by first round picks, he got an early start on trying to be an excellent role player, well-rounded enough to chip in where he could while knowing his future wasn’t going to be a power play guy or on a top line.
It’ll be interesting to see how that applies for his pro career, often times players out of juniors or college are used to being that type of “best kid on the team” situation and have to adjust in the pro games to a more two-way game. Caulfield is already a step ahead of the game there, with this quote from the same PG article above:
“I knew I probably wasn’t going to be a go-to goal scorer for [the USNDP], so I knew I had to find a role within that team,” he said. “I’m gonna keep on trying to improve, so I can add offense when it’s there. But definitely it’s helped out a lot over the past few years developing my defensive game and just kind of having that power forward mentality.”
Caulfield did make a big jump at North Dakota statistically, and is becoming a bigger part of that team. Due to the NCAA COVID rules, he has two more years of college eligibility, should he want it. Now at 21-years old and in his fourth year of NCAA in 2022-23, he definitely should continue to flex being one of the more experienced and veteran players at his level. Showcasing enough skill with a big year could get him on the Pens’ radar to sign and start a pro career in 2023-24, potentially.
As an aside some reserve lists, like CapFriendly, show Pittsburgh to lose rights in August 2023, but I presume like the Clayton Phillips situation where he went back for a fifth year of college, the team’s rights for the player was also extended, which presumably would also happen for Caulfield should he elect to stay at UND for two more seasons. Whether or not the Penguins and/or Caulfield would be interested in signing in 2024 remains to be seen, however.
In a perfect world for a timeline, Caulfield will have a big senior season (which seems like he’s on target to potentially have) and sign at the conclusion. Then he would be in-line to play his age-22 and possibly age-23 seasons in Wilkes-Barre, with perhaps the chance to have an NHL opportunity or be knocking on the door for one, towards the end of his (still unsigned) entry level contract.
Caulfield is not a player with a huge ceiling, but his frame is clearly projectable to the professional ranks. His early work away from the puck, embracing a two-way role and defensive ability might give him a leg up on other prospects who probably won’t be so developed in those areas. He might be somewhere in the realm of Anthony Angello/Radim Zohorna/Drew O’Connor in a few years, which isn’t going to light the world on fire but would provide a decent, young and relatively cheap bottom-six option for the Pens in the future if all works out.