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Why Canadiens’ Cole Caufield may be America’s next star

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Cole Caufield has to be pretty comfortable wearing red, white, and blue, or some combination of it, by now.

The little winger played for the U.S. National Teams Development Program (2017-19) and the national team in the U-17, U-18 and World Junior categories. His second stint for the U20 team was golden.

He wore red and white at the University of Wisconsin (2019-21), where he capped his college career with the 2021 Hobey Baker Award for best male college hockey player. And now, he wears the blue, white and red of the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup final.

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“It’s very special, to be honest with you,” he said between Games 2 and 3. “I really didn’t expect this to happen in your first year, your first two years. But just to be in this moment, enjoy it every day.”

Just over two years ago, the 5-7 winger slid down the draft table against the Canadiens at 15th overall.

“It’s a perfect fit. They have a great young team right now and I’m looking forward to being a part of something like that,” he said right after being selected in the 2019 draft in Vancouver.

Indeed. Considering what we’ve already seen, there are probably 14 teams kicking themselves now for not catching the right winger.

At just 20 years old, Stevens Point, Wis., Native made their NHL debut against the Flames on April 26 and skated in 10 games, scoring four goals and five points. He has now played in more playoff games than regular season games in his young career. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final was his eighteenth postseason game and he has accumulated nine points (four goals, six assists) in them.

“He’s extremely talented,” Nate Leaman, Caufield’s head coach at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships, told Sporting News. “He’s a very good skater, very good on his edges. He can find holes quickly. He can make the transition. He has a great transitional skating, a great sense of transitional hockey. And it can end. To me, it seems like the higher the pace, the better it suits his game. “

Skating in a line that includes young stud Nick Suzuki and veteran Tyler Toffoli, he combines that speed and quickness with a deadly shot and an extreme desire to score goals. The desire is something Leaman captured when Caufield and Trevor Zegras skated for the gold medal-winning American team.

SN Q&A: Mike Modano on Auston Matthews and Team USA.

“No matter what drill, no matter at what point in a practice, it would be a warm-up drill, they’re scoring and they’re legit, happy, excited to score,” he said. Leaman called the couple “game breakers” and “difference makers.”

That excitement, that desire to be “the boy” was also evident in Wisconsin, where he scored 30 goals in 31 games last season.

“He’s confident. He’s a scorer, man. Give me the puck, I’m going to shoot at the net. It’s always been that way,” Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato said in April when speaking to SN in advance. from Caufield’s first NHL game.

“It doesn’t matter if he’s playing in the NHL, he’s playing college, he’s playing the international game, he’s playing hockey. He loves to score and he loves to help his team.”

While the Canadiens are still playing in the Stanley Cup final, and hoping to avoid a sweep on Monday, the page can now turn to next season. With only a handful of regular season games under his belt, he will undoubtedly be one of the top preseason contenders for the Calder Trophy. And if the NHL goes to the Olympics in 2022, could you put on your family USA hockey jersey?

The United States has not won gold at the Olympics in men’s ice hockey since the country “believed in miracles” in 1980 at Lake Placid.

“He’s a kid who just wants to win,” Leaman said. “His first priority is to win. His second priority is to score, but his first priority is to win.”

Could this kid with the big smile and carefree attitude, the one who said “I hate losing” in the draft, the one about whom Toffoli said, “We haven’t had our coffee in the morning and he’s already smiling and jumping,” play for your country again? He has fought on the international stage in the last two World Youth Cups (three goals in 12 games), but is quickly becoming one of America’s biggest weapons in the NHL on both ends of the court.

And perhaps that is what the United States needs to overcome the problem. Guys like Patrick Kane, Auston Matthews, Alex DeBrincat (who Caufield likes to emulate), Jack Eichel, Caufield’s national team friend Jack Hughes and yes, Cole Caufield.

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