If 20 is the new 30 in today’s NHL, then don’t expect Wisconsin Badgers’ 19-year-old sniper Cole Caufield to be hanging around the college ranks much longer. Especially if he continues to victimize NCAA goalies three to five years his senior the way he did last Friday night against host Notre Dame.Caufield, a Wisconsin native who was picked 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2019 NHL draft, is arguably the top teenage goal-scoring prospect currently outside the NHL. Even before arriving at the Madison campus for his freshman year, the Stevens Point native had already broke records for the U.S. National Team Development Program in both the career (126) and single-season (72) goal-scoring categories – records previously held by NHLers Phil Kessel and Auston Matthews, respectively. Additionally, his 14 goals during last year’s under-18 world championship tied the record held by current NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin, who is the leading goal scorer among active players and tied for ninth on the league’s all-time list with 692.MORE: Lafreniere, Byfield among standouts at Top Prospects GameOn Friday, Caufield recorded the first hat trick of his NCAA career to propel his rebuilding Badgers to a 6-4 win in hostile territory. Not only was he the first Wisconsin freshman to score three goals in a game since 2004, but he also upped his season total to 16 – the most in the nation among first-year players. Caufield added an assist in a 5-2 loss on Saturday, giving him 26 points in 24 games, also tops among freshmen.With a 0.67 goals-per-game average and at least 12 games remaining on the schedule, Caufield is on pace to become the first Wisconsin freshman to score 24 goals or more since former NHL all star Dany Heatley potted 28 in the 1999-00 season.The shotCaufield doesn’t hide from the fact that he’s a shoot-first winger. His primary responsibility, like most goal scorers, is to anticipate where the puck will end up and beat opponents to that spot with his stick blade at the ready. Whatever he’s been doing to evade pressure seems to be working — through Monday, Caufield also leads all NCAA freshman in shots (96) and shots per game (4.00). Naturally, teams have tried to limit his looks at the net by overloading his side of the ice or have a defenseman cheat away from the low slot to prevent shots from the left circle. These tactics may brief well on a dry-erase board, but even the most well-planned schemes designed to slow down a scorer of Caufield’s caliber have a weak point destined to be exploited. Such was the case on Friday when Caufield beat the Fighting Irish with three goals that were unique in pre-shot execution but identical in method of delivery: a deadly wrist shot with pinpoint accuracy.On his first goal of the night, Caufield – all 5-7 of him – picked up a loose puck in center ice and fended off 6-1, 192-pound defenseman Matt Hellickson with an inside move that bought him space but reduced his shooting angle. Despite having limited options, Caufield saw goalie Cale Morris drop down early and wristed a shot over Morris’ glove-hand shoulder to get the Badgers on the board after trailing for most of the opening stanza.“It always feels good to score, just to help the guys and the team win is the biggest part of it.” Caufield said afterwards. “It calmed us down a little bit and gave us some energy heading into the second.”It took Caufield only 79 seconds into the middle period to pot his second. Only this time he had help from a familiar face. A quick transition into open ice coupled with the fancy stickhandling of center Alex Turcotte is a scenario most opponents would like to avoid, especially with Caufield smartly distancing himself into a prime shooting area. But that’s exactly what happened after a nasty toe-drag move by Turcotte froze two Notre Dame defenders and opened up room for Caufield, who in one motion slung a perfect shot into the top corner.Oh these two… 🤩@Turcotte__71 with the saucy feed to @colecaufield for his second of the night!Watch live at: https://t.co/SOeSx3H72J#OnWisconsin | #Badgers pic.twitter.com/OymIaQR8yy— Wisconsin Hockey (@BadgerMHockey) January 25, 2020It certainly wasn’t the first time the duo combined for a pretty goal. Not only were they linemates on the NTDP for parts of the previous two seasons, but it was Turcotte who fed Caufield for the game-winning goal in an overtime win for the U.S. against the Czech Republic at the recent under-20 world junior championships. Their latest masterpiece on Friday was yet another example of the chemistry they have developed over the years.“I was just reading and reacting,” Caufield said afterwards. “The skill (Turcotte) put on the defenseman to make it a 2-on-1 was unbelievable. He put me in a really good spot to score.”Later in the frame, Caufield occupied his customary position on the power play in the left circle and calmly deadened a hard pass before firing a top-corner laser that beat Morris high on his blocker side. It not only completed the hat trick, but also gave his team a lead they would not relinquish. All three goals were sniped in the upper-half of the net against a goalie in Morris who recently was nominated as a potential finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.“The last time we played Notre Dame at home (in November) he robbed me a couple of times,” Caufield said. “This time I just looked to get it past him and lucky enough they went in tonight.”Being modest and having a team-first attitude are common among college hockey players. But filling the net at a higher clip this season than any of his freshman peers is something only Caufield can claim, thus making his transition from junior hockey to the rough-and-tumble NCAA all the more seamless. Of course, that doesn’t mean Caufield hasn’t had to deal with his share of detractors, who seem convinced that his lack of size and a rather nondescript world junior tournament are enough proof for them to marginalize his past accomplishments. The fact remains that the average NHL player is shrinking, from 73.3 inches tall in 2016-17 to 73.0 inches for the first half of this season.The NHL draft is seeing a similar shift towards smaller players. A recent report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman revealed that the average height of draft-eligible forwards who participated in the recent Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects Game dropped from nearly 6-2 in 2017 to 5-foot-11. If undersized blue-chip prospects are coveted by the scouting community while current NHLers listed under 5-9 such as Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat and Cam Atkinson already have 40-goal seasons, then it would be wise for Caufield’s critics to hold off on limiting his potential.Another popular criticism since last year was that Caufield’s goal scoring was a byproduct of flanking an elite center like Turcotte or 2019 first-overall pick Jack Hughes, or that Caufield is a power-play specialist who doesn’t score enough at even strength. A quick scan of his scoring log, however, reveals that only six of Caufield’s 16 goals this season involved Turcotte, and his 10 goals at even strength (nine at 5-on-5), lead all NCAA freshmen. MORE: Limitations and applications of Corsi, hockey’s ‘fancy stat’Like most teenage prospects, Caufield’s game does have room for improvement. Although his size is a limitation he can’t change, he spends the bulk of his shifts on the periphery looking for shots off the pass rather than engaging in physical battles along the boards or behind the net. Of course, this could be a directive from the bench, much like Granato’s decision to keep Caufield off the penalty kill entirely and limit his zone starts to the neutral or offensive zones.Nonetheless, Montreal has to be pleased with Caufield’s development since drafting him last June. His ability to score from anywhere inside the offensive zone is among the best of any player outside the NHL. The fact that he’s doing it against NCAA goalies who are further along in their development means that he isn’t far from doing the same at higher levels.