Four years ago the Montreal Canadiens were busy preparing for the 2019 Draft.
They lacked offensive talent and defensive prowess, making the 2019 Draft class particularly interesting. It was populated by several talented U.S. National Development Team players who had been coached by John Wroblewski, the young but passionate coach of the development squad.
Players like Jack Hughes, Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte, and Cam York were among the names available, as was Cole Caufield, the small but productive forward who had just set a record by scoring 72 goals for Wroblewski’s team.
As the USNTDP players quickly heard their names called to at the podium, Caufield waited.
Yes, he was great in the offensive zone while playing against USHL players, but questions regarding his questionable skating, defensive prowess, and diminutive size dominated the pre-draft conversation surrounding the talented goal scorer.
Rather than focusing on the fact that Caufield had set scoring records at almost every level he played, teams were blinded by the possible reasons not to draft him.
Being so small, will he be capable of finding open ice?
Will his weaknesses allow him to find success in the NHL?
How long will a team have to wait until he’s ready?
With the vast majority of the elite USNTDP players picked early, leaving Caufield to the Canadiens. In a sense, the rest of the league made the decision for the Canadiens, who simply could not ignore the talent available at 15th overall, especially when you consider they were starved for elite offensive talent.
Caufield took a little while to acclimatize to the NHL, owing to a very unlucky shooting percentage while he was playing for former coach Dominique Ducharme. But once he was given a little consistency in his usage, which meant better linemates and more minutes, the truth emerged.
Yes, he’s small, but he can find open ice.
No, he’s not a perfect player, but his many strengths allow him to find success in the NHL.
He took a couple of years to make his way to the NHL, but it was worth the wait.
GOAL CAUFIELD!!! 😱🚨 pic.twitter.com/wHr6Q6vSl0
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 20, 2022
Montreal Canadiens Looking Forward
There’s a bevy of talent available at the 2023 Draft, much like in 2019.
But there’s one player in particular who has received the bulk of the attention.
SKA St.Petersburg forward Matvei Michkov.
Yes, he’s great in the offensive zone while playing against KHL players, but questions regarding his size, defensive prowess, and questionable skating have come to the forefront. As has his contract in the KHL, which means he won’t make his way to North America for three years, one year longer than the Canadiens had to wait for Michkov.
But for some reason, the conversation regarding his skill, the most important aspect when evaluating prospects, are few and far between.
His elite talent is almost an afterthought compared to the exaggerated issues that come up whenever the winger is mentioned.
And while the Montreal Canadiens will certainly put their hands on a highly skilled player at the Draft in Nashville, it would be wise to remember the lesson Caufield taught the league.
There are no guarantees Matvei Michkov will shine as bright as Caufield has during his short career, but there are certainly parallels to be made about their pre-draft scouting reports.
When a player is overflowing with talent they tend to cut through most of the white noise.
Betting on pure skill is rarely a bad choice.