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Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield is improving his triple-threat ability

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With teams realizing his USNTDP performance was no fluke, Caufield is being forced to adapt to tougher defences.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Kevin Light/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 (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Cole Caufield shoots a lot; a current volume of 4.16 pucks on net per game to be exact. His 50 total shots places him in the top five in the entire NCAA in the category and first for freshmen. The number of total shot attempts is even higher.

This stat is probably circled in red on the opponent’s pre-scouting sheets. Even if it isn’t, they probably already know what he does: he gets lost in your coverage, scores a goal, and repeats.

Good defenders take into account the tendencies of the best players on the opposite team. If Caufield is coming down the wing to attack the net, they might be tempted to close their gap more aggressively to force a lateral pass, because the diminutive forward’s shot is a bigger threat than most other college players’.

When saying that a player is deceptive, we often speak of the ability to fake the defence, to manipulate it in real time. But being deceptive is also being diverse, so that defenders won’t know what to expect.

This is becoming important for Caufield. NCAA teams are now well prepared for him, and are developping strategies to slow him down.

A week ago, when Wisconsin faced University of Nebraska Omaha, he couldn’t put up his usual level of performance. ‘‘Shut down’’ might be an exaggeration considering he still managed nine shots on net in two games and recorded an assist, but it’s fair to say he wasn’t creating as much on the ice as he usually does.

He came roaring back against Notre Dame, a top-five team in the NCAA going into their matchup. He chained scoring chance after scoring chance.

Some of his offence was derived from the effective forecheck of Wisconsin. Caufield managed to take advantage of many turnovers and the disorganized defence to drive the attack. But more than that, the Habs prospect is slowly becoming a “triple-threat” forward, meaning that he can feint, pass, or shoot depending on what is available and what the best play is.

His passes and dangles are not as dangerous as his release, but just the fact that he is attempting different schemes makes him harder to predict for defenders. They can fall into traps, losing their ability to recover when they make the wrong read.

This collection of clips is taken mostly from last weekend where you can see him attempt a flurry of different attacks off the rush, often showing one play and turning it into another. A fake-shot is turned into a net-drive, a backhand from closer to the net, or a drop pass on different possessions.

There’s also an interesting sequence in which he uses his body to create space, driving his shoulder into a back-checking defender as he drives to the middle, then dangles the last line of defence for a backhand shot.

He needs to continue on this triple-threat path if he wants to be as effective against prepared defences. There are still some instances where he could make better choices in possession, sometimes by toning down the rapid flash stick-handling and using his teammates more.

In the clip below, after he pushed back the defence, he had a great drop-pass option to a teammate in a shooting position inside the slot, but he kept the puck for almost a zero-angle shot. His release is great, but this one still had a low chance of beating the goalie.

Being more diverse in his plays will help the prospect continue racking up points when his shots are not going in, which was generally happening last weekend.

He scored the one goal by sitting near the goal post to slam the puck in on a rebound. In typical Caufield fashion, he showed an impressive control of his body and aim, dropping to one knee to send the rolling puck above the goalie’s pad, sticking it in the top of the net, fixed between the post and the netting.

The rest of Caufield’s attempts were unsuccessful. He got a few breakaways, and spun on the spot to rapidly get the puck off his stick as he stood alone in the slot, but couldn’t beat Notre Dame’s netminder again after his first goal.

With a three-point weekend that saw him earn one goal and two assists, Caufield still leads Wisconsin with 15 points in 12 games, including nine markers. It’s a safe bet that with the amount of shots he continues to fire to the net, his goal total will pick up in the next few games.

He will need to be a difference-maker for the up-and-down Badgers this weekend as they face another very strong team in the the Minnesota Gophers. His line with Alex Turcotte has already produced the bulk of the offence for the team. That said, it feels like there is another level they can achieve to lead the team to more victories.

Wisconsin slid in recent NCAA rankings and probably deserve to be higher based on their talented cast, but that can only be proven with more on-ice success.

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 5 6
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 2 2 4
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 2 2 4
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 2 2 4
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 3 0 1 1
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 4 2 4 6
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 4 0 1 1
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3 0 0 0

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 31 15 23 38
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 31 15 27 42
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 26 10 29 39
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 27 11 19 30
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 27 2 13 15
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 25 5 26 31
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 25 4 16 20
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 30 0 3 3

NCAA Weekly Stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 1 1
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 2 0 2
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 1 1
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 1 1 2
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 0 0 0 0

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 14 1 1 2
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 18 12 8 20
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 15 3 7 10
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 14 2 3 5
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 17 3 8 11
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 20 5 9 14