When Cole Caufield entered the league he was quickly labelled as a goal-scorer, and with good reason.
He has the type of shot that defies physics and pushes scientists to come up with ideas for developing cameras capable of capturing objects that are moving faster than the speed of light.
But there’s been a very interesting evolution in his game, leading to progress across the board.
Yes, he’s still scoring a lot of goals.
Since the Canadiens made a coaching change last season, only Auston Matthews (21) has scored more 5v5 goals than Caufield (19).
One of the earliest criticisms regarding Caufield’s goal-scoring prowess was that he would end up being dependent on the power play.
The exact opposite has occurred.
If anything, the Canadiens’ power play is holding Caufield back, at least compared to the percentage of goals scored with the man advantage by other snipers around the league.
Thankfully, he’s also started to show flashes of brilliance in his playmaking, which goes a long way in compensating for his team’s listless power play.
The improvement has led to a significant uptick in overall production, as evidenced by the chart below.
A closer look at the included trendlines reveals he’s made more progress when it comes to generating assists than goals, a very encouraging sign since he also doubled his goal output.
To get a better idea of how Caufield has managed such an impressive jump in numbers, we have to take a look at the footage.
Thursday night’s game against the Jets provided ample evidence to support the idea Cole Caufield is making an impact in all three zones, while also pointing to some of the things Caufield is doing to turn his goal-scoring talent into scoring chances for his teammates.
For example, his ridiculous pass to Brendan Gallagher late in the third period.
The pass may have deflected on the Jets defender, but the point remains the same. The entire team is focused on Caufield rather than Gallagher, which opened up a prime scoring opportunity that should have been an easy goal.
And he’s doing more than just creating chaos in the offensive zone, which, of course, leads to fewer shifts spent in the defensive zone.
He’s also slowly, yet surely becoming a strong presence in the neutral zone, and with his skillset, he’s able to turn anticipation and smart defensive positioning into goals, as he did last night in the second period.
I paused the video posted below during the initial forecheck to show you just how deep Caufield was prior to the puck returning to the neutral zone. Acting as the second forechecker (F2), he pressures the Jets’ defender, forcing the opposition to make a series of quick passes in a desperate attempt to flee the zone.
This leads to a loose puck situation, and that’s where Caufield pounces.
He quickly returns to the neutral zone and supports his linemate, Kirby Dach who is being pressured on both sides and is at risk of turning over the puck.
But he doesn’t just recover the puck with the greatest of ease due to great anticipation, he quickly transitions the play into the offensive zone with a controlled entry, which then leads to some confusion among Jets defenders.
Caufield forces his coverage deep into the zone, leaving Dach with one of the easiest goals he’s scored in the NHL.
To recap, within the span of a few seconds, Caufield pressures the defence, recovers his position, steals a puck, generates a controlled entry, feeds Nick Suzuki with a good pass, and then drives the defence back so Dach has an easier time scoring.
On the scoresheet, it will only count as a secondary assist, but Caufield was clearly the driving force behind the goal.
Given he’s already established himself as one of the best goal-scorers in the entire league at just 21 years old, the evolution in all other crucial facets of the game simply adds to the incredible amount of potential shown by Cole Caufield in the early chapters of his NHL career.
(All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)