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Catching The Torch: Cole Caufield is doing things you rarely see in the NCAA

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Caufield isn’t just piling up the points, he’s creating the majority of the offensive chances for his team.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Andre Ringuette/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, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

I didn’t plan on writing about Cole Caufield again this week. Luke Tuch has had a nice debut to his college career and Sean Farrell is currently on a 21-game point streak in the USHL, but the small scorer forced my hand with his performance against Michigan State.

Seven points! We haven’t seen that from a Habs prospect in quite a while. Only Nick Suzuki operated at that pace in the OHL, and it was the OHL not the NCAA. College teams always prepare for the main threats of the other team, and the players are older, more mature, and more experienced. Blowouts and individual performances like Caufield’s are not the norm. Of course, Michigan State isn’t a powerhouse in the Big Ten; their recent 9-0 loss to the 18-year-olds rookies of the Wolverines, the other Michigan team, comes to mind.

But that doesn’t tarnish the play of Caufield. He carried his club’s offence, especially in the second game. The prospect created the four goals his team scored, finishing with two of those markers and two assists.

Caufield gave us a wide selection of plays to analyze: beautiful top-corner releases with both slapshots and wristers, dangles, and even some defensive efforts. He had a hard backcheck to stop a four-on-two at the end of Saturday’s game, lifting the stick of an opposing shooter as he got the puck. The play turned into a clean steal and a shot for his team the other way.

Ultimately, I think his best play of the weekend was a setup for the speedy Linus Weissbach, a Buffalo Sabres seventh-rounder. The sequence showed many interesting elements, things that weren’t necessarily in Caufield’s game in his draft year, but are now part of his routine.

The play starts with a line change. Caufield comes in and anticipates that the puck will bounce out of reach of a Michigan State opponent standing at his blue line. The winger pursues it, cutting another chasing opponent at the hands and sending him to the ice. Caufield takes the disc, breaks into the offensive-zone, and faces the remaining defender.

I talked about the prospect’s tendency to look for those one-on-ones with opponents in previous articles. His go-to play is to shoot through the opponent’s legs. The success rate of such a play is relatively low, no matter how skilled the shot preparation.

In this particular rush, however, Caufield checks over his shoulder for teammate support. When Weissbach speeds up to meet him, the Habs prospect widens his legs to use his inside edges to slow himself down, and heel-turns into the path of the defender, challenging him head-on. It’s not to fire through him, but to force a pokecheck in order to slide the puck under the opponent, toward his teammate for a tap-in goal.

The play is another example of Caufield’s rapid manipulation abilities. The wide stance, the heel turn, the way he brought the puck ahead to bait the pokecheck, and then back to fake a shot to freeze the goalie, and finally, the slip pass — those are all high-level skills that the prospect managed to chain in a second to open up the play to his teammate.

There are still concerns about the prospect’s game in small areas and on the defensive side. But his technical abilities and his problem-solving skills in open ice are already way above NHL-average.

Here’s another play showing some of those same abilities. He isn’t manipulating the defender here as much as he is reading the cues the opposition is giving him. His wide arc at the top of the zone is followed by a defender who makes the mistake of crossing over and gaining too much momentum. As soon as Caufield sees that, he cuts back counter to the feet of the opponent, having him overshoot. He walks up to the faceoff dot and fires.

He currently leads the NCAA in goals and total points, is second in total shots, and tied for fifth in assists. Minnesota will pose a much greater challenge next week for Wisconsin. Let’s see if he can maintain his top spot.

Blake Biondi, RW, University of Minnesota-Duluth

Biondi has been getting a bit more ice time for the Bulldogs. He won’t escape the depth of the lineup this season, but at least he is finding ways to score by capitalizing on turnovers and by using his body to protect the puck and forecheck. He has picked up three points in the last six contests.

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