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'Dynamic' Canadiens prospect Cole Caufield to make AHL debut Friday

Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield (8) advances the puck during the championship game against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament on March 16, 2021, in South Bend, Ind.
Wisconsin forward Cole Caufield (8) advances the puck during the championship game against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament on March 16, 2021, in South Bend, Ind.

Cole Caufield will make his much anticipated AHL debut with the Laval Rocket Friday in Toronto against the Marlies (7 p.m., RDS).

The Canadiens signed Caufield to a three-year, NHL entry-level contract on March 27 after he completed his season at the University of Wisconsin. The 20-year-old had to complete seven days of COVID-19 quarantine after arriving in Montreal and practised with the Rocket for the first time on Tuesday.

The Canadiens selected the 5-foot-7, 170-pound right-winger in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft. In 31 games this season at Wisconsin, Caufield posted 30-22-52 totals to lead the NCAA in goals and points. He is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the top player in U.S. college hockey. The winner will be announced at 6 p.m. Friday.

Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard confirmed Thursday that Caufield will be in the lineup Friday, but wouldn’t say who his linemates will be, not wanting to tip off the Marlies. Bouchard did confirm Caufield will be on the power play.

“Yes. Yes. Yes,” the coach said. “The reality is we put guys in situations so they can grow into pro hockey. He’s definitely a power-play guy. I’m not going to put him on the fourth line and give him like a couple of minutes. We’re going to be smart in the way we integrate him. You have other players, too. We’re not kind of pushing everybody aside because Cole’s coming.

“You have to understand there’s a process in hockey and there’s a way to do things,” Bouchard added. “As a coach, I don’t care if you’re a first-round pick, I don’t care if you’re an invite, I don’t care. I’ll treat you the same in a way that I’ll be hard on you, I’ll be polite with you, I’ll be there for you.”

I have my principles in life. … When a player comes with attributes, I’m not going play the hardball and say: ‘He’s not going power play first day, pay his dues.’ No, he’s going to be on and he’s going to be good. And if he’s adjusting to something, that’s what the AHL is all about. There’s no mind games with me. I’ve never done it, I won’t do it. He’s going to be on the power play. Come on. This is what we do and he should be on the power-play. He’s a power-play guy. Will he be perfect? He doesn’t have to.”

The Rocket is in first place in the Canadian Division with a 17-5-2 record, 15 points ahead of the second-place Marlies, who are 10-9-1. The Canadiens reassigned goalie Charlie Lindgren to the Rocket on Thursday and he will start Friday night. Bouchard said he plans to start Vasily Demchenko in goal when the Rocket plays the Marlies again at 3 p.m. Saturday.

Bouchard describes Caufield as a “dynamic player.”

“He’s got puck feel, he can shoot the puck,” the coach said. “And I want to talk more about his personality. He loves being on the ice, which is fun. It doesn’t seem like the end of the world for him to play hockey. Sometimes you can see guys that playing hockey is really demanding and draining. I think he’s kind of: ‘Hey, I’m a hockey player. That’s what I do and let’s do it.’”

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