Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield is attending classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and practising with the school’s hockey team.
The question is: For how long?
Uncertainty over the NCAA hockey season fuelled a rumour that Swedish team Rögle BK was pursuing the Canadiens’ first-round draft choice (No. 15 overall) from 2019. Caufield’s name popped up after the Swedish team walked away from Raphaël Lavoie, who was on loan from the Edmonton Oilers. The Swedish website HockeyNews.se reported that Rögle was interested in adding Caufield.
When the 19-year-old Caufield announced that he was returning to Wisconsin for a second season, Marc Bergevin said it was a sound decision, but the Canadiens general manager had a different take when he talked to La Presse this month. He said that, with the NCAA season on hold, Caufield could benefit by forfeiting his college eligibility and playing in Europe.
With the NHL not planning to play any regular-season games before December, many teams have been loaning their prospects to European teams so they can stay active until training camps open. The Canadiens have loaned forwards Jesse Ylönen, Hayden Verbeek and Lukas Vejdemo and defenceman Otto Leskinen to European teams, but other teams have been more active. Edmonton has 12 players on loan, while the Los Angeles Kings have 10, including 2019 fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte, who was Caufield’s linemate last season at Wisconsin.
While Caufield has declined to comment on his plans, Wisconsin coach Tony Granato is trying to be positive.
“Obviously, we want Cole here,” Granato told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s Cole’s decision on where Cole wants to be. We’re getting ready for our season. We know we’re going to play. We’re just trying to finalize our schedule. But we’re pretty confident we’re getting a full season in.”
Granato might be a tad optimistic.
The college season normally begins in early October, but there has been no date set for the start of the coming season and, in fact, there’s no confirmation there will be a season.
If Caufield does go to Sweden, he will probably play the entire season with Rögle. The Canadiens have determined that the 5-foot-7, 162-pound winger needs more seasoning before making his NHL debut and the Swedish Hockey League offers an opportunity to play at a high level.
Caufield also has the option of joining Sault Ste. Marie in the Ontario Hockey League or the Canadiens’ AHL farm club in Laval, but neither team will be playing before December.
He’s also expected to play for the United States at the world championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Edmonton where he could be reunited with Turcotte. And, depending on the NHL schedule, he could be joined by the New Jersey Devils’ Jack Hughes, who was his linemate with the U.S. National Development Team. The U.S. team is also expected to feature Canadiens defence prospect Jayden Struble from Northeastern University in Boston.
Caufield was one of the few bright spots on a Wisconsin team that finished with a disappointing 14-20-2 record. He led the Big 10 in scoring with 24 points in 24 games. Overall, he had 36 points (19 goals) in 36 games.
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