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Catching The Torch: Sean Farrell leaving a lasting impression on the USHL

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Farrell has begun a new point streak after his record-setting run was stopped.

Dan Hickling / Hickling Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Sean Farrell is not just dominant in the USHL, he is historically dominant. From November 25 to February 11, Farrell wrote his name on every one of the Chicago Steel’s scoresheets, picking up 49 points in 24 games. That streak now stands as the record in the USHL, and it is one that will be hard to beat.

No matter the circumstances surrounding that record — the fact that Farrell is on the older side in the league, that he wasn’t supposed to return this season but join Harvard, and that he is playing for a USHL juggernaut — there won’t be any asterisk next to the mark as it remains a feat.

Farrell hasn’t been cruising in his USHL games. His supporting cast, especially Matt Coronato, has been generating a ton of offence, but Farrell is not just latching on but enabling his teammates with a combination of old and new offensive patterns. His shot has seen more use; he is firing 2.54 times per game on net on average this season compared to 2.22 last season. His releases from the slot specifically have also increased year-over-year. As a result of this switch to a more triggerman mentality, especially on the power play, his goal total increased. He beat his previous total of 15 markers in January and now stands with 18 on the season. Two of those goals have come short-handed, too.

Of course, Farrell remains a playmaker at heart. This season, he is arguably even better at finding players in the slot under pressure. He loves to skate ahead of his teammates in the offensive zone and take ownership of the area below the goal line. By skating there, the forward places defenders in an uncomfortable position. First, he forces them to decide on who will cover him — the below-the-net surface is a switch-zone in many zone coverages — and he also forces defenders to face the back-wall, which means they turn a blind eye to attackers behind them, making them prime targets for Farrell’s passes.

A lot of the winger’s primary assists have come from backhand passes, and those are inherently more deceptive. His body doesn’t open up toward his teammates when he passes with the reverse side of his blade and, in turn, defenders don’t expect those feeds as much.

While his offensive game continues to open up in different ways and improve overall, it hasn’t really been the case for his skating. He still moves up and down the ice in his typical hunched-over form. I said this before, but Farrell’s speed and acceleration remain quite surprising considering his less-than-ideal skating pattern. Next year, we will see how big an issue that skating form will be in the NCAA, but I bet it won’t hinder Farrell all that much. Harvard hockey is still months away for him. He has time to strengthen his core and work on his ankle flexion — often the root cause of a steep bend at the hip. Even if his form doesn’t improve, his crossovers will allow him to generate rush offence anyway.

This year’s draft gives us a comparable example of a forward who manages to fly up ice with crossovers regardless of a hunched-over forward skating form: Matthew Beniers. Farrell won’t reach the same level of effectiveness, but sometimes we put skating limiters on prospects that don’t really exist. Smart players find ways to adapt. They create habits that allow them to move past weaknesses.

All in all, it doesn’t feel like Farrell’s development has been frozen in the USHL. Even considering the circumstances and the setting, his hot streak remains a good sign of growth.

Cole Caufield, RW, Wisconsin Badgers

Talking about hot streaks, Cole Caufield continues to score in the NCAA. He has a six point lead over his closest pursuer on the NCAA leaderboard, an immense gap that we don’t usually see in the league, especially at this time of year. Again, this season is different, but so is Caufield’s impact for Wisconsin. He and Dylan Holloway, the Edmonton Oilers’ 2020 first-rounder, are the engine of the team’s offence, the wheels, and the fuel.

Considering the number of games that Caufield has played and his 19 goals, the most in the NCAA, the Hobey Baker should be his. It is hard to find anyone else who most embodies the trophy. Wisconsin isn’t a strong formation — we talked at length about the pieces they lost this season — but every weekend, Caufield gives them a chance to overcome their opponents. They have been winning more games than I expected, that’s for sure.

Here is a collection of Caufield highlights for the past month.

The Habs’ top prospect scored in a variety of ways: two-touch shots, precise wrist-shots kept low to take advantage of screens, deceptive five-hole slides, give-and-gos, and slap-shots. He also used the typical angle changes and fakes that have been part of his arsenal this year and even moreso in this second half of the season.

Is the increase in production a sign that Caufield is ready for the NHL? Not necessarily, but the increase of pace in his game, and the way he takes over games for longer stretches now, means that he has outgrown the NCAA and that he is ready for a new challenge. Whether that’s a place in the AHL or an NHL spot will be determined in short order.

NCAA/USHL weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 0 1 1
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Tri-City 0 0 0 0
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 0 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 0 0 0 0
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 0 0
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 0 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 30 22 52
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 6 7 13
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 53 29 72 101
Sean Farrell (playoffs) 2020 LW USHL Chicago 6 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon/Tri-City 43 13 21 34
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 47 7 6 13
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 18 2 10 12
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 19 6 13 19
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 13 5 4 9
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 25 2 3 5
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 16 6 5 11

Goalie weekly stats

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0

Goalie Season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 26-16-2-1 2.48 0.908 2
Jakub Dobes (playoffs) 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0