The Ducks could use a future number one center. We all know this. Sam Steel has shown some early promise, but no one can definitively say that he will ever be able to take over the Ryan Getzlaf role down the line.
At the most basic level, what the Ducks need more than anything else, is someone who can put the puck in the net. A lot. Anaheim ranked 24th in goals for over the last three seasons. That’s not going to cut it if Bob Murray wants to bring a championship back to Orange County.
Cole Caufield is small. Looking at him on the ice, he looks like a kid sitting at the adult table at Christmas dinner. But he has a secret weapon: the ability to score goals almost at will. His stock has been rising lately, but if he is available at 9th overall, the Ducks should absolutely take what is almost certainly the best pure-goal scorer in this year’s draft.
Position: Center/Right Wing
Team: USNDTP (University of Wisconsin commit)
Weight: 163 lbs
Age: 18 (DOB Jan 2, 2001 - Stevens Point, Wisconsin)
Caufield would be tied with Alex DeBrincat for second shortest player in the NHL if he played today (Rocco Grimaldi is the shortest at 5’6”). But he’s a member of the growing trend of NHLers under 5’10” who have a scoring touch. DeBrincat, Tyler Johnson, Cam Atkinson, Mats Zuccarello, and Johnny Gaudreau, just to a name a few.
While he has experience as a center, Caufield’s strongest position is on the right wing. It’s at this position that Caufield has developed into a truly game-breaking goal scoring talent, one with an elite shot that is, in all honesty, capable of potting between 20 and 30 goals in the NHL today.
Caufield finished his season with the USNTDP, smashing Auston Matthews’ single season goals record by a full 17 goals with 72 in 64 game played, including a six goal game in March that the Athletic’s Corey Pronman said was, “one of the most ridiculous performances I’ve ever seen.”
As if that wasn’t enough, he took over the USNTDP career goals record from Phil Kessel, lighting the lamp 126 times in his career compared to Kessel’s 104.
He pairs that elite shot with great skating ability that imparts agility and a slippery game to make his lack of size nearly a non-issue. He also uses that skating and a high hockey IQ to find the soft areas of the ice in order to get the best scoring chances possible.
There are some question marks with his game, as with any prospect. He played the majority of this year’s record setting campaign alongside Jack Hughes, leading to rightful questions as to whether or not he can create his own offense, or if he’s the product of the wunderkind.
However, even when he’s been separated from Hughes, he’s found ways to score, including in the years leading up to this season. At the end of the day, he’s just like most other great goal scorers in the sense that, while having a great playmaking center by his side would maximize his abilities, he’s perfectly capable of creating his own chances to remain a threat whenever he’s on the ice.
He also, as you might have guessed for a pure scorer, has some issues on the defensive side of the puck. However, he has the ability to break the puck out extremely quickly and burn defenses on the transition if he’s able to gain possession in the defensive zone.
Additionally, he could stand to gain a few pounds to help hold off NHL defenses, as he currently is listed at 163 lbs soaking wet. Putting a few more pounds on would go a long way to cleaning up some of the loose ends in his game.
Caufield, for all of his exciting tools, is still at least a year or two of NCAA hockey away from challenging for a spot on the Ducks. But a gamebreaking goal scoring talent is something the Ducks haven’t had in years. It’s something they need perhaps more than anything else, and if the Ducks are going to build a sustainable system capable of challenging for a cup in the near future, Caufield’s potential will be more than worth the wait.