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Cole Caufield: the ultimate student of the game

Special contributor Marc Dumont sat down with Cole Caufield to learn more about the 2019 first rounder's progression to date

by Marc Dumont, special contributor @MarcPDumont /

MONTREAL -- By now you've heard all about Cole Caufield's potential.

If you need a refresher, a quick glance at his accolades since joining the Wisconsin Badgers of the NCAA tells the story. 

He was named to the Big Ten All-Rookie Team and All-Star Team, as well as being named the Rookie of the Year, and finally, he took home the conference's scoring title.

For many, finishing with a laundry list of praise and awards following your freshman season would be seen as a successful entry into the NCAA ranks.

But Caufield doesn't want to talk about his personal success. 

Not yet, anyhow.

He acknowledges the value of the awards, but seeing as the Badgers finished dead last in the conference, he'd trade it in an instant to improve their record.

His team-first approach, which bodes well for his future aspirations in the NHL, is part of what makes Caufield a unique player.

Yes, he possesses a shot that seems to defy at least two of Newton's three laws of motion, and yes, he's one of the most exciting prospects playing in the college ranks, but there's more to Caufield than just goals. 

"The accolades? They don't really matter if you're not, you know... winning," explains Caufield. 

As a self-proclaimed hockey nerd, Caufield spends hours poring over NCAA and NHL footage. 

And it's not just a case of admiring his own goals, though there's plenty of video evidence to support that hobby if he desires. 

He studies some of the best goal-scorers in the NHL. Auston Matthews, in particular, has caught his eye, thanks to his ability to seamlessly change his shot's angle of attack by dragging the puck slightly. Caufield notes Matthews' ability to drag the puck has more to do with the position of his feet than just elite hands, though, Matthews' long reach helps him pull off the move. 

As he explains the process involved, I pull up a video of a random Matthews goal to verify his hypothesis.

He's right. It's all in the feet. 

"He's shooting off his right leg when he pulls it in," explains Caufield. "The puck moves a lot prior to the shot, and his reach helps, but you have to watch his feet."

Lesson learned. Never doubt a hockey nerd.

Especially one that goes to the source for his information.

Studying players like Joe Pavelski -- whom Caufield exchanged texts with throughout the playoffs -- and Matthews may give Caufield a good idea of what it takes to score in the NHL, but if you want to get down to brass tacks, you have to speak to those tasked with standing in front of the 72"x48" opening as opposing forwards shoot chunks of frozen, vulcanized rubber towards them.

"There's a lot of different ways to score goals," said Caufield. "You can't just be one dimensional."

Caufield is considered the natural enemy of most goaltenders, but Badgers netminder Robbie Beydoun is in a unique position; he only has to face Caufield's shot in practice. He can provide his teammate with insight as to what makes life harder on goaltenders, all the while avoiding the frustration of having that insight used against him on game day.

"He's a nerd about goalie stuff, too," said Caufield, before launching into an intricate explanation as to how masking your shot can lead to nightmares for opposing goalies. 

"The biggest thing he taught me is, when you pull the puck in, you don't even need to worry about shooting it hard. It's so hard for goalies to track a puck, especially when you're changing the angle that much. It doesn't have to be the hardest shot. But if you put in a place where he can't see it, he can't get to it because he's moving due to you changing the angle prior to the shot. It makes such a big difference."

Tweet from @BadgerMHockey: 🚨Cole Caufield puts the #Badgers on the board!🚨

Improving his already ridiculous shot is part of the plan for Caufield, but it's far from the skill he's eager to refine.

Enter Rob Ramage, the Canadiens' director of player development, who checks in weekly with the Canadiens' top forward prospect.

"He's taught me a lot about the defensive side of things," said Caufield. "And it's something that I really wanted to work on. So it's nice to learn from him and get a head start on that."

With Ramage in his corner, Caufield has put an onus on improving his defensive game, which has become a source of pride as he waits for the NCAA season to begin. 

"You're not going to play in the NHL if you can't play in the D zone," said Caufield. "That's a big part of my game right now. I think I have more fun playing defense. I love taking pucks away from forwards. Competing on the defensive side is something that I've taken a lot more seriously. I'm kind of proud of how far I've come this summer."

When he's not busy studying the best goaltenders in the games, Caufield takes time to review some of his own footage, glossing over his numerous goals to find plays in which he struggled to succeed. 

As much as Caufield wants to score, he also wants to improve his puck-carrying skills, his gap control when defending, his positioning, and, well, everything else he can work on.

"I think there's a lot more stuff that you can learn from plays that weren't goals," said Caufield

In other words, he wants to improve every single aspect of his game, and he'll do anything he can to achieve that goal. 

And once that goal is achieved, he moves the goalposts back, to create a challenge that will once again push him to the next level.

"What could I have done better?" said Caufield. "I would say I'm my own harshest critic. And it's just because I want to be the best. Critiquing yourself could be considered a bad thing by some, but I love it."

It's an attention to detail and innate desire to improve that hockey coaches dream about, and have a hard time forgetting once Caufield moves on.

Just ask his former coach with the US National Under-18 team, John Wroblewski, who is quick to point out that Caufield is more than just a goal scorer.

His playmaking skills should not be ignored.

"He's a special player," said Wroblewski. "And he drives the play, too. He gets discredited for his momentum game. He gets pigeonholed as a sniper."

"He's a hell of a 200-foot player, too," added Wroblewski.

Tweet from @RinksideView: Cole Caufield picks up an assist.

Caufield's smile grows exponentially when discussing the value of playmaking. He knows it's an underrated aspect of his game, an underrated aspect that he takes full advantage of whenever the opportunity arises.

Having a great shot means you'll probably score a lot of goals, but it also means you're attracting a lot of attention from defenders, consequently opening up a plethora of possibilities and open ice for teammates. 

"I'm confident in my shot," said Caufield. "But you have to read everything and react from what [the defense] is doing. Holes open up constantly because of how defensemen move their sticks."

Don't feel bad if you've also pigeonholed Caufield as simply a sniper. Many, including opposing defenders and goaltenders, have done the same. Most revise their opinion once they take a closer look at the player in question. 

The fact remains he is a sniper, and if that's all he was, you'd be hard-pressed to argue that drafting an elite sniper 15th overall is a mistake. 

But there's so much more to Caufield's game than just goals. 

Caufield is a perfectionist.  
Caufield is ambitious. 
Caufield is honest when it comes to his strengths and weaknesses.

Simply put, Cole Caufield isn't just studying when he's in class, though that's certainly part of his NCAA workload.

As the ultimate student of the game, he's also busy working on his Ph.D. in Hockey.

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