clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield is finding ways to create his own offence

New, comments

The Canadiens’ top prospect is experimenting with his offensive game, while Rhett Pitlick gets a good setup to showcase his.

2019 NHL Scouting Combine - Portraits Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty 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, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Cole Caufield isn’t used to not racking up goals. His current semi-cold streak must feel almost unnatural to him since he has scored easily at every level from a young age.

You would think that joining the U.S National Team Development Program would have required an adjustment period, but it didn’t at all. He put up a ridiculous 44 goals with the U-17 squad in 40 games, and then did it again the next year, breaking all-time records with the U-18s.

Maybe college hockey finally represents a needed challenge for the prospect. Or he’s just snakebitten. One way or another, the good news is that he has decided he won’t just be hitting his head against the wall by trying the same things he did in Junior with less success.

The ways Caufield is trying to adapt to college hockey has been a recurrent theme in recent editions of Catching The Torch. We talked about the way he is developing more of a triple-threat identity, and then touched specifically on the now more prominent playmaking aspect of his game. But the prospect obviously continues to be defined by his shot. If you had to reduce him to one unique trait, it would still be goal-scoring. Like the rest of his game, the way Caufield is using his release is also changing out of necessity.

First, he lost a big asset in his transition to college: Jack Hughes. It seems almost taboo to talk about the way the first overall pick made Caufield better in their time together, but it’s a reality. Caufield moulded his style to fit the star-like ability of Hughes to control the game and set up others. It let the Habs prospect reinforce very important aspects of the game: the art of roaming quiet ice and getting lost in coverage. He became incredible at sneaking behind defenders, timing himself to one-time the deft passes of his teammate as he darted in and out of the slot.

Now, there is no centre able to set him up in the same way at the college level. Alex Turcotte is incredibly talented, but quite different stylistically from Hughes. He doesn’t manipulate defenders in the same ways. There’s also Dylan Holloway, a high-end prospect for the 2020 draft, Caufield’s current pivot after a lineup change. Holloway is of the new generation of power forward who also brings setup abilities off the rush. But again, even if his pairing with Caufield has proven to be interesting, he is not a perfect match.

There’s also the fact that even if Caufield had the perfect distributor on his line, a player capable of opening passing lanes at will, college hockey’s in-zone coverage is a step up from the USHL. Yes, Caufield faced NCAA competition last year, but the games were exhibitions, not the high-level competition versus well-prepared opponents he sees now.

Caufield has been forced to create more of his own shots now. He’s discovering ways to use the threat of his release to beat defenders and improve his shot location.

Here are a few clips showcasing that from Saturday’s game:

The first one had him getting the puck in a favourable spot while he moved off the wall. He managed to move through most of the defence to get to the slot by pushing away pokechecks, then held on to his release for a half a second in order to find a better firing spot.

In the second clip, Caufield closely followed Holloway to pick up a drop-pass. He skated up, shot-ready, but didn’t release until he could aim through a defender’s legs, concealing the trajectory of the puck as best as he could.

In the third sequence, the Habs prospect slowly moved through the defence. With head slightly down, inside shoulder dropped, the threat of his shot forced one defender to over-extend. Caufield easily moved around him to continue his path to the top of the circle. The second defender he was pitted against went down into a blocking position, and Caufield still took a step further and blended a toe-drag inside a release to create a shooting lane for himself.

Last but not least, his goal on Sunday:

Caufield circled the offensive zone, again, faked a shot to force a defender down and gain the left faceoff circle. The opposing goalie looked left around the player fronting him. As a result, Caufield saw the open space to the right of the netminder and hammered the puck to that top corner.

Soon heading to the World Junior Championship, Caufield continues to lead Wisconsin with 18 points in 16 games.

Rhett Pitlick, LW, Muskegon Lumberjacks

Pitlick has put up three points in his first three games with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Habs prospect didn’t need much time to feel comfortable playing on a line with dynamic scorer Daniil Guschin, another prospect eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. It could be the perfect setup for Pitlick, whose speed and playmaking ability needs such a finisher.

The Lumberjacks picked up three out of four points in their matchups with the Chicago Steel last week. The early indications are that maybe the change of scenery will bring good results not only for Pitlick, but for his new organization as a whole. It could help jump start what was an up-and-down start to his first USHL season.

Here are some highlights from the past week:

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