J.J. Watt turned out to be right.
The Arizona Cardinals defensive end is an avid hockey fan and wrote on his Twitter account May 20 that the playoff game between Toronto and Montreal “could use some Cole Caufield.”
this Canadiens-Leafs game could use some Cole Caufield… #StanleyCupPlayoffs
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) May 21, 2021
The Canadiens’ rookie spark plug was scratched that night for the series opener and didn’t play in Game 2, either. But with the former University of Wisconsin standout in the lineup, Montreal has gone 7-2 and is one step from playing for the Stanley Cup.
Standing in the Canadiens’ way are the Golden Knights, with Game 1 of the NHL semifinal series Monday at T-Mobile Arena.
“Since he’s been called up to our group, he’s been watching, he’s been learning, listening to everything that the coaches have told him,” Canadiens winger Brendan Gallagher said. “And he’s been effective. He’s helped our team. We obviously put him in a position where we rely on him now, and he’s been performing.”
Caufield had a record-setting career with the U.S. National Team Development Program and was selected 15th overall in the 2019 draft, two picks ahead of Golden Knights prospect Peyton Krebs.
As a sophomore at Wisconsin this season, he led the nation with 30 goals and 52 points in 31 games and won the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey.
The Canadiens signed the 5-foot-7-inch Caufield in March, and he bagged four goals in 10 regular-season games after being called up from the American Hockey League.
He has yet to score in nine postseason appearances, but has four assists skating almost 16 minutes per game on a line with leading scorers Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki.
“I read a quote, I believe it was after the Toronto series, it might have been (Maple Leafs coach) Sheldon Keefe or somebody, about the impact when they inserted Caufield and (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi into the lineup how that changed the dynamics of their line,” Knights coach Pete DeBoer said Sunday. “He’s a world-class player, and one of many on that team, and someone we’re going to have to be aware of.”
Watt, who also attended Wisconsin, tweeted “you’re welcome” at the Canadiens’ account after Caufield set up Suzuki’s overtime winner against the Maple Leafs in Game 5 on May 27.
you’re welcome @CanadiensMTL
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) May 28, 2021
Montreal went on to win two more games over Toronto and rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, then swept Winnipeg in the second round.
“Caufield has been an absolute playmaker since being added to the lineup. Great call by whoever suggested that,” Watt tweeted at the Canadiens’ account June 7 after Game 3 of the second round.
Along with his offensive skill, Caufield also brought a youthful energy to the Canadiens’ locker room, and his attitude has quickly made him a fan favorite in Montreal.
The team’s social media account used a photo of a grinning Caufield as its profile picture for 22 hours (he wears No. 22) on Friday.
Nos boss viennent de partir pour la fin de semaine. 😈
Si ce tweet atteint 2200 likes, Cole sera notre photo de profil pendant 22h.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) June 11, 2021
“The energy that he brings to our group, we can feed off that,” Gallagher said. “Just a happy kid. Smile on his face, comes ready to work. You can never have too much of that.”