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Rising to challenges has marked Caulfield's road to the NHL Draft

Judd Caulfield of Grand Forks is ranked No. 50 in Central Scouting's midterm draft rankings. Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

Judd Caulfield had an opportunity to play varsity hockey for Grand Forks Central as a freshman.

But he wasn't so sure.

Caulfield was thinking about playing another year of bantams with his friends and his age group.

His older brother, Collin, had other ideas.

Collin, a junior at the time, and their father, Bob, sat down and talked to Judd, suggesting that it might be time to take on a greater challenge.

“We said, 'You've got to do this, you've got to play high school, you've got to push yourself a little bit,’” Collin said. “At first, I don't think he wanted to do it. But looking back at it now, I think he's glad that he did what he did. He adjusted well and we had a great group of guys.”

Perhaps, it was all of those hours on the family's backyard rink, where Judd was pushed and challenged by Collin and his group of older friends. Those games would often get competitive, but Judd could hold his own. Maybe it was his gifted skillset to go along with his 6-foot-3 frame that helped.

But rising to challenges has been Judd's story.

He successfully jumped into high school hockey that 2015-16 season, just as Collin predicted, scoring 13 goals and tallying 27 points in 27 games. It was one of the best freshman seasons in North Dakota high school hockey in the last decade. He followed that up with a 25-goal, 64-point sophomore season for 27-0-0 state champion Central.

Then, Caulfield successfully jumped onto perhaps the most talented U.S. National Team Development Program squad ever assembled, one that could have as many as five forwards selected in the top 10 of next weekend's NHL Draft -- Jack Hughes, Cole Caufield, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and Matthew Boldy.

Sometime on Saturday, Caulfield's moment figures to come in the NHL Draft in Vancouver's Rogers Arena. His family, which has talked him into taking some of those challenges, will be there to celebrate the moment -- father (Bob), mother (Danelle), older sister Jozy, 22, older brother Collin, 20, younger brother Carson, 16, and younger sister Cassy, 13.

“It's going to be awesome to have them there,” Judd said. “They've always been there my whole life supporting me.”

Most draft rankings project Caulfield to be picked sometime around the fourth round.

He was one of 104 participants invited to the NHL Combine last month in Buffalo, where he interviewed with seven NHL teams.

“It was a little nerve-wracking with all of the people interviewing you,” Caulfield said. “But it was a fun experience.”

Whatever team takes Caulfield will be banking on him continuing to rise to challenges. Next season, it will be at UND, where he will be a true freshman.

“He's a big body, right-shot winger,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “He can play the game any way you want it to be played. He did an outstanding job on the penalty kill (for the NTDP). He was a big part of their success on the PK. He has good offensive ability. The majority of his points came against D-I teams. They play a hybrid schedule of D-I and junior teams and he scored most of his points against D-I teams. That bodes well for him coming in as a freshman playing against hard and heavy competition.”

Caulfield had 12 goals and 36 points in 64 games last season with the U.S. Under-18 Team, playing in numerous different roles. He played games on all four lines during the season.

“He's a big, powerful winger,” an NHL scout told the Herald. “Really good down low. He's really good along the walls. He's really good in front of the net. He was a good penalty killer for the NTDP. I wouldn't be surprised if they get him in that role at UND. His biggest challenge is that he's such a nice kid -- quiet and reserved -- that he's going to have to learn how to play outside of his personality, I think. He has more to give. It's OK to run over people to get to where you need to go.

“Next year, he can provide a big body up and down the wing in a bottom-six role and he'll have special teams value. If he ever scores more than 10-12 goals in a season, I'd be surprised.”

Caulfield should be prepared to make the jump to college next season considering not only his experience playing against college teams last season but also his experience practicing with such a stacked U-18 team.

“It was truly fun," Caulfield said. "All of the practices were highly competitive. You get better every day when you're playing and practicing against the best.”

Editor’s note: Bob Caufield was a standout hockey player for Detroit Lakes in the early 80’s, drafted by the New York Islanders in the 1983 NHL entry draft.

JUDD CAULFIELD

Position: Right wing.

Size: 6-3, 207.

Shoots: Right.

Hometown: Grand Forks.

2018-19 team: U.S. Under-18 Team.

2018-19 stats: 64 games, 12 goals, 24 assists, 36 points.

2019-20 team: UND.

Herald draft projection: 4th-5th round.

Central Scouting rank: 67 (North American skaters).