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Caufield likely top 10 pick in 2019 NHL Draft despite lack of size

5-foot-7 forward confident he can play at highest level after 72-goal season with USNTDP

by Mike G, Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

Cole Caufield of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team believes he would be a top-three selection in the 2019 NHL Draft if he were a couple of inches taller.

As it stands now, Caufield is projected to be selected among the first 10 picks. While that certainly isn't a bad proposition, he realizes his 5-foot-7, 163-pound frame is probably the reason he won't be taken higher. Caufield mentioned his stature being a popular question among the 27 interviews he had with NHL clubs at the NHL Scouting Combine last month.

"I wouldn't mind being taller, but I'm not going to regret being small because I do feel it's worked in my favor," Caufield said. "In my opinion, I would be considered a higher pick than I am right now if I had a couple more inches, but I'm not going to complain or get mad that I don't have it because I've kind of dealt with it my whole life."


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As the first round unfolds at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS), it's going to be harder for NHL clubs to pass on one of the best natural goal-scorers in the 2019 draft. Caufield set the single-season NTDP record with 72 goals this season and became the all-time leader at the program with 126 goals in 123 games over two seasons.

"The way the game is changing now, you see the amount of the success the slighter, smaller guys are having in the NHL like Alex DeBrincat (Chicago Blackhawks), Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames)," Caufield said. "They produce, and that's really given me hope to see what they're able to do at the highest level."

DeBrincat was 5-foot-7, 165 pounds at the time he was chosen in the second round (No. 39) of the 2016 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks. He has 128 points (69 goals, 59 assists) in 164 NHL games, including 41 goals this season.

Since 2016-17, Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews is the only player from the 2016 draft class with a higher points-per game average (0.97 in 212 games) than DeBrincat (0.78). DeBrincat ranks third in goals-per game (0.42), behind Matthews (0.52) and Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine (0.46), the two top selections in 2016.

"Cole Caufield is not going 39th in the draft, where DeBrincat went," New Jersey Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said. "If that were the case, I'd be talking to (general manager) Ray Shero to trade up from any pick to get him. To me, Caufield is a better-skating DeBrincat, and DeBrincat's skating has improved since he got to the NHL."

The success of players like DeBrincat is forcing more teams to look at smaller players.

"I think (DeBrincat) opened a door for Cole Caufield," said Chicago Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mark Kelley. "People in my business say fool me once (but) fool me twice, good luck."

Gaudreau was listed at 5-foot-6, 137 pounds when the Flames chose him in the fourth round (No. 104) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He has 387 points (133 goals, 254 assists) in 394 NHL games. Since 2011-12, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov is the only player from the 2011 draft class with a higher points-per game average (1.03, 447 games) than Gaudreau (0.98). Gaudreau ranks first in assists-per game (0.64).

The Vancouver Canucks, picking 10th, might have an opportunity to draft Caufield, who is scheduled to attend the University of Wisconsin in the fall.

"I think the game now is so fast and it's more about the mental toughness and the courage than the size of the player," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. "If you watched the Stanley Cup Final, the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues each had some players who weren't big but showed mental toughness and hardness. I think the League is becoming very fast and it's been about speed and skill. Having said that, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you play every second night and it's tough, hard hockey.

"I don't know if it's so much about the size but about the mental toughness, and hardness, to want to get inside and get to the net."

Video: Highlights of USA Hockey NTDP forward Cole Caufield

Caufield said his hockey IQ and playmaking are underrated parts of his game.

"I think it gets overlooked based on how my season went this year," Caufield said. "I'm not one-dimensional, and I bring a lot of other things to the table. There's more to my game than just goal scoring."

Caufield spent most of this season as right wing on a line with center Jack Hughes (5-foot-10, 171 pounds), the projected No. 1 pick in the draft, and Trevor Zegras (6-foot, 173 pounds), a projected top-10 selection. But he was effective no matter who he played with.

"The thing with Cole is he's so much more than just a goal scorer," Zegras said. "It's really underrated and hard to find a guy who has such a knack for finding those open loose pockets. He's unbelievable on the power play, his speed is really underrated and he's a great teammate, so if you're passing up on him because of his size, you'll regret it in the future."

Caufield led the NTDP with 27 power-play goals.

"The NHL is all about speed and skill now, and it's such a hard league," Hughes said. "But if you have a high hockey IQ and you can skate and think, that's all you need. I don't think size is a big deal these days. I think it's being a smart and quick player ... that translates well."

Dallas Stars amateur scout Mark Leach said the NHL has changed a bit during the past three years, to the point that size isn't much of a factor anymore, with some exceptions.

"If you're going to draft smaller players, those players need to have high-end skill, high-end quickness, and high-end speed, and you have to be kind of a difference maker as a smaller guy," Leach said. "Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring, you can see how strong you need to be to fight through that type of a game. Also, those smaller players need to be in your top-six [forwards] or top-three if they are defensemen, because they aren't going to be in that checking role. It's hard to withstand two months of grind at 5-foot-8 or 5-foot-9. You can do it, but it's just very hard."



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