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Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield is lighting up the NCAA

The Canadiens’ top prospect is currently a two-goals-per-game player.

NHL: JUN 26 Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

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

Cole Caufield scored five points in his first two career NCAA games.

Slow starts seemingly do not exist for the diminutive forward. He arrived on the scene, ripped opposing goalies, and walked off with his name written all over the scoresheet and the history books.

The Habs prospect was a weapon for Wisconsin’s power play in this first weekend of games. His three points with a man advantage are a big reason why he managed to lead his team in points.

Wisconsin struggled last year to organize themselves and put the puck in the net, lacking both playmakers and a true goal-scorer; they only converted on 16.7% of their man-advantage situations.

This number has jumped way up in this start to the season. The Badgers obtained power play after power play last weekend, and in 12 opportunities, they found the back of the net six times. Of course, the 50 % mark won’t last for the whole season, but it’s a safe bet that the team’s end-of-season conversion rate will be much higher than in the 2018-19 season.

It’s also a safe bet that Caufield continues to be the centerpiece of it all. The Badgers didn’t have access to a shot like his last year.

The scorer again displayed some great releases this weekend, showing perfect body positioning and control to redirect wobbly pucks behind opposing goalies.

In both his power-play goals, Caufield dropped to one knee to add power and lift to the puck and pointed his outside foot toward the net to set his aim. His one-timers beat the netminders before they could seal the top of the net in their lateral movement. Caufield’s movement in the five-on-four formation also contributed to those goals, and many more shot attempts that barely missed.

The plan for Wisconsin was either to feed him from the goal line or the half-wall on the other side of the ice, and Caufield glided into the right position at the right time to be on the receiving end of lobbed pucks.

In the first clip in the video above, you can see him descend to the bottom of the right faceoff circle two passes before an attempt to reach him is made. As soon as the tic-tac-toe starts on the other side of the ice, he started moving his feet. This is great practice and anticipation.

It’s probable that Caufield’s gravity increases as the season goes along and teams get better at adapting their defence to Wisconsin’s strategy. Other teams will likely cheat toward him to take away his ability to fire. If that happens, his teammates will get a lot more space to operate and players like Alex Turcotte and K’Andre Miller will definitely take advantage of the room they are afforded.

Should that happen, it won’t be the end of Caufield’s production. He showed he can act as a distributor on the man advantage when he sent a hard pass toward Turcotte on the other side of the ice. Turcotte had plenty of time to settle the puck and score, as Caufield smartly moved outside of the dots before his feed. The goalie squared to his movement, hugging his right post, and had a long way to go in his lateral movement to block Turcotte’s shot.

All of that said, the great performance on Wisconsin’s power play wasn’t really surprising. He has all the tools necessary to make an impact at the NCAA level against a team down a man. He proved it last season when the US National Team played their college opposition. Despite the other points he picked up in the scoring fest against Merrimack, and a slapshot breakaway goal where he looked short-side and slammed the puck to the far post, the Habs prospect’s contribution at five-on-five was much lesser than on the power play.

Caufield didn’t take the best angles to kill plays away from the puck and could have better timed himself with Badgers breakouts to give more passing support, which would have translated to even more scoring chances up the ice.

He also has to take the shooting opportunities given to him. Defenders are better at the college hockey level. They don’t get baited by feints as much, and it won’t be as easy for Caufield to improve his shooting location in the offensive zone by dangling an opponent.

In the video above, the prospect does a good job of finding space by moving behind a rushing Linus Weissbach. His linemate pushes back the defence and Caufield gets a pocket at the top of the zone. After skating over the blue line, he could have taken a few steps toward the top of the circle and launched a shot at the net using the defender as a screen. His release certainly gives him a better chance to beat the goalie from this distance than most other skaters at this level, especially if it is partially masked, but Caufield tried to fake his shot to thread the puck inside the skates of an incoming defender, who managed to steal possession.

Caufield played college oppositions last season, but those aren’t exhibition games anymore, and his teammates aren’t all the best young talent in the country. It will take him some time to become as effective at five-on-five as he is on the power play.

The good news is that the prospect has shown himself to be highly adaptable. It’s only the first weekend of games and he is out there breaking records. It’s hard to ask for more. It should be an interesting season.

CHL Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 3 4
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 2 3 5
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 2 1 0 1
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 1 1 2
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 1 1 2
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 3 1 5 6
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 2 0 1 1

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 9 1 5 6
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 9 6 6 12
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 7 1 2 3
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 9 4 9 13
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 9 1 5 6
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 9 2 7 9
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 5 0 4 4

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos Conference Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 4 1 5
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 3 0 2 2
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern Injured
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 1 1 2