MONTREAL - Habs fans in Vancouver: if you missed seeing Cole Caufield at the NHL Draft a few months ago, you've got another chance to get a look at Montreal's first-round pick this weekend - and this time, it'll be on the ice.
That's because Caufield's University of Wisconsin (UW) Badgers will be headed to British Columbia's largest city for a pair of exhibition games against the University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds on August 30 and September 1.
The Badgers' head coach, former NHLer Tony Granato, is excited for Caufield and teammate Alex Turcotte to get to play their first UW games in the city where their biggest hockey dream to date came true.
"Being where the Draft was, being able to start your season right back where probably the greatest day as a player that they've had just happened a couple months ago... it's really exciting for those guys to start in Vancouver and begin their collegiate careers," shared Granato, a veteran of 773 games with the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and San Jose Sharks.
With the Badgers having practiced several times throughout the month, Granato has already had an opportunity to see the 15th-overall pick in 2019 up close and believes he lives up to his reputation.
"When the puck gets on his stick around the net, it's generally in the back of the net. His ability to score, his ability to get open and get available to be in a scoring area is elite-level. His competitiveness is something I knew about before we started these practices, just from watching him the past couple years with the US team and watching him at international competitions," outlined Granato, who was especially impressed with Caufield's work ethic. "He didn't get this good by being a perimeter player or just feeling his way into it. This kid's a competitor, he's a worker. He wants to be first in line in drills; he always wants to do one more. He's been a pleasure to be around."
Fans who are able to make it to the UBC-UW games will certainly be able to see a lot of Caufield for themselves, according to Granato.
"He's going to play a lot. He's going to have a great opportunity to get lots of ice time. Turcotte and [Linus] Weissbach will probably be the line he starts with. At some point [Dylan] Holloway will be on the ice with him," explained Granato, the 1997 Bill Masterton trophy winner. "Cole is going to get a great opportunity to show his skill. We're coming out to Vancouver for lots of reasons, team building being one of them. But there are two games in there that we want to play well and have a good showing in. We're going to get our freshmen lots of ice and give them a chance to get their feet wet playing college hockey."
From what Granato has seen, Caufield isn't far off from being ready for the big show. He'll just have to prepare his body for the grind of enduring a full pro schedule to get himself the rest of the way there.
"Personally, I think his understanding of how to play the game is already at an NHL level. Physically, the demand of playing 82 games, the demand of positioning yourself to take the least amount of wear and tear over that stretch, will be one of the most important things for him to have to learn how to do. He's not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with every defenseman in the NHL for 82 games, every single shift... he can't dump the puck in and go battle along the boards for 20 minutes a game," Granato said of Caufield, who played 64 games and scored 72 goals for 100 points for the US National Development Team (USNTDP) last season. "He'll be ready for that next level skill-wise. Now, his physical maturity of understanding how to to be able to be ready for that schedule will be the biggest thing that he'll have to work on."
The Badgers and Thunderbirds face off at UBC's Father Bauer Arena on Friday, August 30 at 7:00 p.m. PT and on Sunday, September 1 at 3:00 p.m. PT. Tickets are available at the door only for a suggested donation of $5 each.