David Quinn is long gone and his legacy remains to be judged. Brought in as a teacher who specialized in how he related to young players, the question that will dog him long past his days as a New York Rangers coach will be how he handled the team’s two crown jewels, Alexis Lafrenière and Kaapo Kakko.
Meanwhile, there is one rookie who is making waves and his path to the NHL has been completely different from that of the two young Rangers. That would be Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs are heading to the NHL Final Four and they got there on a Tyler Toffoli overtime goal that was set up by Caufield. Watch how he won the puck battle and made a brilliant pass for the goal.
— NHL Sverige (@NHLsv) June 8, 2021
Caufield has played only ten regular season games and nine playoff games, but he’s already making an impression. Best known as a gifted goal scorer, he has shown he can be a playmaker and can win the board battles despite his 5’7″ frame.
What did Montreal do to make Caufield’s debut so positive, that the Rangers didn’t when they introduced Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière?
Cole Caufield was drafted 15th overall in the first round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. That’s t he same draft that Kaapo Kakko was taken second overall by the Blueshirts. Five of the top 15 in that draft have yet to play in the NHL and Caufield was the ninth from that class to make his debut.
He was known as a scoring machine, tallying 72 goals in 64 games for the U.S. National U18 team though at 5’7″ and 165 pounds there was a belief that he was to small to play in the NHL.
Montreal let him play two full seasons at Wisconsin, signing him to an Entry Level Contract at the end of this NCAA season. They sent him right to Laval in the AHL and he played two games, scoring three goals and four points. He appeared ready for the NHL and despite the fact that the Canadiens were still fighting for a playoff spot, they promoted him.
What’s fascinating is how coach Dominique Ducharme has utilized the rookie. Ducharme chose to give him his first start in a crucial game against Calgary. He was on ice for the opening face off and he played on a line with Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault filling in for the injured Brendan Gallagher.
In his first NHL game he played 18 shifts for 15:40 of ice time and even saw 2:02 on the power play. He saw 4:09 of ice time in the third period as the Habs clung to a third period lead.
Caufield saw regular shifts in the next two games, a loss to Toronto and a win over Winnipeg. Again, he played on the power play and had five shots on goal.
A game winner
Caufield scored his first NHL goal in his fourth game and it was a doozy. It was the game winner in overtime, giving the Habs a 3-2 victory over the Senators. He drove to the net and deflected a Jeff Petry pass past Filip Gustavsson 2:05 into overtime. He played almost 12 minutes and had three shots on goal.
What a moment for Cole Caufield. 👏
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 2, 2021
In his next game, he did it again, scoring in overtime for a 3-2 win over the Maple Leafs, again off a pass from Jeff Petry. He was on the ice for four minutes in the third period and played 1:15 of 4:43 minutes of overtime.
HE’S DONE IT AGAIN. 🤯
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 4, 2021
In the final five games of the season, Caufield never played less than 12:46 and saw over 16 minutes of ice time in the Habs’ season finale. He finished with four goals and five points and averaged almost 14 minutes of ice time.
But the regular season was just a tease for what was to come.