Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2019 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
Cole Caufield of USA Hockey's Under-18 National Team Development Program could turn out to be one the best goal scorers of the 2019 NHL Draft.
The 5-foot-7, 155-pound right wing certainly made a believer out of his linemate, center Jack Hughes, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
"He's probably the purest scorer of this draft class," Hughes said. "It's not like he overpowers goalies with his shot, it's that he has a knack for scoring, so it's really easy to play with a guy like that. You put it on his stick and it usually ends up in the back of the net, so no complaints playing with him."
Caufield leads the USNTDP this season with 19 goals and five power-play goals, ranks second with 91 shots on goal and third with 27 points (eight assists) in 23 games.
U.S. U-18 NTDP coach John Wroblewski said Caufield has the best hands of any player in the program.
"Purest hands I've seen, for sure," Wroblewski said. "When he gets a puck, he's able to prep and snap it so quickly, and it's a laser every time. He's so sneaky with the way he uses his body because there's a lot of core strength that he uses to his advantage with that smaller frame."
A year ago, Caufield scored 54 goals for the Under-17 and U-18 teams, coming one short of equaling the USNTDP record for goals in a season set by Auston Matthews (Toronto Maple Leafs) in 2014-15.
"Tying that record was in the back of my mind for sure, but most importantly was trying to get the wins," Caufield said.
Caufield, who turns 18 on Jan. 2, was given an A rating on NHL Central Scouting's November Players to Watch list and is a projected first-round pick in the 2019 draft. His smaller frame doesn't discourage him as an offensive threat.
"The game is changing now and it's not really a size game anymore, but more speed and skill," Caufield said. "It's about competing and work ethic; you might have to give more than the other guy, but I've been dealing with this my whole life and it hasn't really affected me.
"My dad (Paul Caufield) taught me how to shoot; the quick release is the trick. I think I'm also a pretty good passer even though I might not show it enough, but I feel like I can play with good players and make them better."
Caufield is committed to the University of Wisconsin next season, where he'll have an opportunity to play with his brother, Brock. Paul, his father, played four years (1989-92) at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and remains the school's all-time leader with 254 points (126 goals, 128 assists).
"Growing up, Brock was the one who taught me how to love the game because he was the one on the ice until the very last minute," Caufield said.
Brock Caufield, 19, said his younger brother is the better offensive player.
"Cole has more of a scoring touch, more of an offensive side to his game than me with special skills that separate him from the pack," Brock said. "I'm more of a 200-foot player and, while he has that side too, he also has that offensive flair that just makes him really special."
The Caufield brothers were matched against each other on four occasions last season when Cole split time between the U-17 and U-18 teams, and Brock played for Green Bay of the United States Hockey League. The NTDP won all four games and Cole had six points (four goals, two assists) and 16 shots on goal; Brock had two goals and seven shots.
"He thinks the game so well; knows where the open space is and can find areas where he has more time," Brock said. "He's not intimidated and has a hard-working mentality. He won't back down from bigger guys and he's not afraid to go against guys older and stronger because he has that compete that just separates him."
Brock is looking forward to the 2019 draft and having the chance to see his brother selected in the first round.
"I know it's going to be very special for him if that happens, but for me, as well, because I know how hard he worked his whole life," Brock said. "Knowing what he's gone through, the adversity, he's a really special hockey player and person. I'd be very excited if that happened for him."