Looking back at Cole Caufield’s 2021-22 season, most of us end up in the same place: putting the blame on Dominique Ducharme. Caufield’s mismanagement actually dates back to the 2021 Stanley Cup run when, after scoring five points in the 10 regular season games he played, Caufield was not selected to be in the lineup for the opening game of the postseason. When he finally made it to the playoffs, he scored 12 points in the 20 games he played.
Caufield was even sent down last season to do a six-game stint with the Laval Rocket to regain his confidence, taking five points (2G, 3A) during his time there. He finished with the Habs for 67 games and finished the season with 43 points (23G, 20A). Eight of those points came in the first 30 games under Ducharme, while 22 of those goals were scored in the second half of the season under the auspices of first-time bank boss Martin St. Louis.
One question will always remain: Would Caufield have been in the running for the Calder Trophy if Ducharme hadn’t messed with his confidence and playing style?
Absolute. I guess we’ll never know, but anyone who says finger-pointing isn’t legit must have some sort of special data to back up their argument that the rest of us aren’t aware of.
Despite Ducharme’s less desirable decisions about our little winger with the infectious smile (no, not Brendan Gallagher), Caufield takes second place in this year’s Top 25 Under 25.
We’ve seen coaching changes make a difference to players before, but since St. Louis took the reins, we’ve seen what we expected from Caufield and more. He even went as far as treating us to his first NHL hat trick in the last game of the year.
The votes for Caufield were almost unanimous – apart from Anton placing him at number one and, really, who can blame him – proving that although the first half of his season was a failure, very little blame is placed on Caufield.
Top 25 under 25 history
On his 2019 debut, Caufield jumped straight into the top 10, climbed to #3 the following season and for the second year in a row, continues to land at #2 in our countdown. The young winger quickly became a fan favorite, dazzling us with his personality and impressive overtime skills, earning him the nickname Goal Caufield when he first joined the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the 2020-21 season, and luckily the name suits him again.
History of #2
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There is no doubt that Caufield’s greatest strength is his elite shot. At a low point last season, it looked like he’d lost his ability to get his sneaky shots and just hit the net every chance he got, but when St. Louis gave his players the space to think outside the box and read the play, Caufield’s confidence and underrated playing skills began to shine again.
He stopped charging the net and shooting, his creativity returned and he began to adapt to the situation. As he mixed up the game by passing more often, it started to upset his opponents, who were used to his always going for the shot.
The most frustrating thing about Caufield’s shot (to goalkeepers; we as spectators enjoy it) is his ability to snipe from all angles. He’s not a one trick pony. What is his secret? “You have to read everything and respond to what” [the defence] does,” he said. “There are always holes opening up because of the way defenders move their sticks.”
Caufield’s 5’7″ frame can sometimes be a problem. While it doesn’t stop him from maneuvering his way onto the ice, it does limit his ability to fight for the puck in the corners, and he has his teammates needed more than once to jump in and lend a hand.
That said, this time Caufield took full advantage of the extended summer break and packed another five pounds of muscle on his 166-pound frame. He says he feels really good about where his game and body are now. That extra five pounds will certainly come in handy when holding off defenders as he tries to get into position for a shot. Or maybe he continues to keep his opponents sharp and passes to one of his linemates, like Suzuki… or Juraj Slafkovský.
Heading into his third year with the Canadiens and the final year of his entry-level contract, there is no doubt that the 21-year-old will be a key player in the Canadiens’ rebuilding. The expectation for this season is that it will be fun and if they make the play-offs, so be it (I said if). It’s the perfect time to gain experience and if he’s given the freedom and proper development there’s no reason to think Caufield can’t make it to the next level, especially if he stays on the frontline alongside his new captain . While still a rookie himself, Caufield is now part of the core team and has the chance to step it up not only on the ice but also in the dressing room and show off his leadership skills to the new faces.
He said that when St. Louis came aboard it was like a switch had been turned for him – and it showed. He says his new coach is, “the kind of guy you want to soak everything in, so every time he talks or shows something on video, you get a call into it.” We’ve all seen Caufield call in, so with the new boss behind the couch, there’s no reason to believe this kid isn’t going to be a great, and dare I say, possibly even have a breakthrough, 2022-23 season.
Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal joins the podcast to discuss Cole Caufield and what he saw when Caufiled was with the Wisconsin Badgers, and the progress he made there.