AHL notebook: Caufield, Boldy among NCAA additions making big impact

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This season, a particularly robust group is joining the league for the final month of the regular season, performing auditions for their future with the NHL teams that drafted them, including possible roles in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

A Hobey Baker Award winner, multiple first-round picks and free agent signings are among those joining the AHL the past several weeks, continuing a trend of top-tier talent playing in the league before moving onto the NHL. This season, 26 first-round picks from the 2019 NHL Draft and 2020 NHL Draft have appeared in the AHL.

Here is a look at some of the biggest names in college hockey who have migrated to the top developmental league of the NHL:

Cole Caufield, Laval (Montreal Canadiens)

The forward (5-foot-7, 162 pounds) joined Laval last week as one of the most anticipated first-round picks to enter the AHL in years. 

Chosen by the Canadiens with the No. 15 pick in the 2019 draft, the 20-year-old forward signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Montreal on March 27 after two seasons at the University of Wisconsin. He scored a NCAA-best 52 points (30 goals, 22 assists) in 31 games and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year.

Hours after winning the Hobey Baker Award voted as the top men’s player in NCAA Division I ice hockey last Friday, Caufield made his pro debut at Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs). He scored two goals, including the game-winner, and had an assist. The next afternoon against Toronto, his tip-in in the third period was the game-winning goal to give Laval a two-game sweep. He has scored four points (three goals, one assist) in his first two AHL games.

Laval coach Joel Bouchard raves about Caufield’s offensive instincts and excellent shot. After some instruction time with the highly meticulous Bouchard, Caufield could move into the Canadiens lineup later this season.

Matthew Boldy, Iowa (Minnesota Wild) 

April has been an eventful month for Boldy (6-2, 196), a forward who turned 20 on April 5.

Taken by Minnesota in the first round (No. 12) of the 2019 draft, Boldy (6-2, 196) made his pro debut last weekend after signing a three-year, entry-level contract March 30. 

Boldy scored a goal and had an assist in his AHL debut, a 4-1 win against Chicago (Carolina Hurricanes/Nashville Predators) last Friday. The next night against Chicago, Iowa trailed 4-2 in the third period, and Boldy’s goal with 1:51 left in the period sparked a comeback that earned Iowa a point in a 5-4 overtime loss. He has scored three points (two goals, one assist) in his first three AHL games.

Before turning pro, Boldy scored 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 22 games at Boston College and was named a Hobey Baker finalist. Along with Caufield, he helped the United States finish first at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and tied for first on the team by scoring five goals in seven games.

Jordan Kawaguchi, Texas (Dallas Stars) 

The 23-year-old forward out of the University of North Dakota joined Texas last week and played three of a four-game series at Colorado (Colorado Avalanche) after signing a one-year, entry level contract March 31. Kawaguchi scored a goal and had eight shots on goal in his pro debut April 6. He had five shots the following night and has scored two points (one goal, one assist) in three games. 

Kawaguchi (5-9, 185) scored 36 points (10 goals, 26 assists) in 28 games for North Dakota. He was third among NCAA Division I players in assists and fourth in points.

Odeen Tufto, Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning)

The 24-year-old forward was signed by the Lightning as an undrafted free agent and could be the latest small (5-7, 174), speedy forward to start at Syracuse and make his way to the NHL.

Lightning forward Yanni Gourde (5-9, 173) already has followed the path, and top forward prospect Alex Barre-Boulet (5-10, 180) is on the brink of becoming a full-time player in Tampa Bay.

Tufto said he signed a one-year entry-level contract with the Lightning on March 31 that starts next season because of the history they have of preparing similar players. He scored 47 points (eight goals, 39 assists) in 27 games for Quinnipiac University, led all NCAA Division I players in assists, was second in scoring behind Caufield and led Quinnipiac in scoring in each of his four seasons. Tufto has not scored in his first four AHL games.

Cameron York, Lehigh Valley (Philadelphia Flyers) 

The 20-year-old defenseman (5-11, 175) and No. 14 pick in the 2019 draft, signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the Flyers on March 31.

Lehigh Valley has not played a game since York reported April 7 because of coronavirus concerns.

He was named the Big Ten Defenseman of the Year after he scored 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 24 games as a sophomore for the University of Michigan. He also was captain of the United States at the 2021 World Juniors and scored six points (one goal, five assists) in seven games.

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