When we look back on Cole Caufield’s 2021-22 season, most of us end up in the same place: putting the blame on Dominique Ducharme. The mismanagement of Caufield actually goes back to the 2021 Stanley Cup run when, after scoring five points in the 10 regular-season games he played, Caufield wasn’t selected to be in the lineup for the opening game of the post-season. When he finally made his way onto the playoff roster, he ended up tallying 12 points in the 20 games he played.
Caufield was even sent down to do a six-game stint with the Laval Rocket last season to get his confidence back, tallying five points (2G, 3A) during his time there. He ended up suiting up with the Habs for 67 games and ended 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 during the second half of the season under the watch of first-time bench boss Martin St. Louis.
One question will always remain: Would Caufield have been in the running for the Calder Trophy had Ducharme not messed with his confidence and style of play?
Absolutely. I guess we’ll never know, but anyone who says the finger-pointing isn’t legit must have some kind of special data to back up their argument that the rest of us aren’t privy to.
Despite Ducharme’s less than desirable decisions made about our little winger with the infectious smile (no, not Brendan Gallagher), Caufield lands in the runner-up spot in this year’s Top 25 Under 25.
We’ve seen coaching changes make a difference in players before but since St. Louis took hold of the reins, we’ve seen what we had expected from Caufield and more. He even went so far as to treat us to his first NHL hat trick in the final game of the year.
The voting for Caufield was almost unanimous — aside from Anton putting him at number one and, really, who can fault him for that — proving that even though the first half of his season was a bust, there is very little blame put on Caufield.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Making his debut in 2019, Caufield jumped straight into the top 10, climbed to #3 the following season and for the second year in a row, sticks the landing at #2 in our countdown. The young winger quickly became a fan favorite, dazzling us with his personality and impressive clutch overtime skills, earning the nickname Goal Caufield when he first became part of the Montreal Canadiens at the end of the 2020-21 season, and thankfully the moniker fits him once again.
History of #2
There’s no doubt that Caufield’s biggest strength is his elite shot. At a low point last season, it looked as if he had lost his ability to make his sneaky shots and was just shooting at the net every chance he got, but once St. Louis gave his players the leeway to start thinking outside the box and read the play, Caufield’s confidence, and underrated playmaking ability, started to shine once again.
He stopped charging the net and shooting, his creativity came back, and he started adapting to the situation. As he mixed up the play by passing more often, it started to throw opponents, who were used to him always going for the shot, off guard.
The most frustrating thing about Caufield’s shot (for goaltenders; we as spectators quite enjoy it) is his ability to snipe from all angles. He’s the one-trick pony. What’s his secret? “You have to read everything and react to what [the defence] is doing,” he said. “Holes open up constantly because of how defensemen move their sticks.”
Caufield’s 5’7” frame can be an issue at times. While it doesn’t prevent him from maneuvering his way up the ice, it does limit his ability to battle for the puck in the corners, and he has needed his teammates to jump in and lend a hand on more than one occasion.
That being said, Caufield has taken full advantage of the longer summer break this time around and has packed on an extra five pounds of muscle to his 166-pound frame. He says he feels really good about where his game and body is at right now. That extra five pounds will certainly come in handy when holding off defenders as he tries to get in position for a shot. Or maybe he’ll continue to keep his opponents on their toes and pass 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’s no question that the 21-year-old will be a key player in the Canadiens’ rebuild. The expectation for this season is that it’s going to be fun and if they make it to the playoffs so be it (I said if). It’s the perfect time to gain experience and if given the freedom and proper development, there’s no reason to think Caufield can’t hit the next level, especially if he stays teamed up on the first line with his new captain. Although still a newbie himself, Caufield finds himself now as part of the core team and has the opportunity to step it up not just on the ice but in the locker room and show off his leadership skills to the new faces.
He said that when St. Louis came on board it was like a switch had been flipped for him — and it clearly showed. He says that his new coach is, “the kind of guy where you wanna soak everything in, so every time he’s talking or showing something on video, you’re dialed into it.” We’ve all seen Caufield when he’s dialed in so with the new boss behind the bench, there’s no reason to believe that this kid isn’t going to have a great, and dare I say possibly even a breakout, 2022-23 season.
Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal joins the podcast to discuss Cole Caufield and what he saw when Caufiled was at the Wisconsin Badgers, and the progress he made there.