NHL Analytics: Developing Cole Caufield

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It took all of one game for Montreal Canadiens sniper, Cole Caufield, to net his first as a member of the Laval Rocket after being assigned to the AHL affiliate on Monday afternoon.

The cross-ice pass found the 20-year-old on his off wing with a gaping wide net to fire in his first goal of 2021-22 in any league.

On va bien s’amuser 🔥

This is going to be fun 🤩 #GoRocket pic.twitter.com/U4Ty8oEY0A

— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) November 1, 2021

Development is not a straight ascension, it’s full of improvements and setbacks, with each element of adversity contributing to long term advancement. Being assigned to Laval has its merits for the player – in personal development – and for the team – so they can both straighten things out. Caufield should have been part of that solution to get Montreal back on track, but still young and eligible, it’s prudent to take the option to be immersed in an environment that allows him to blossom.

Optics are also at play.

The 2019 1st round selection (15th overall) sputtered after an eye-opening performance in the 2021 playoffs – despite sitting the first two games. The logical conclusion would be that he would be a vital offensive weapon up front. The diminutive winger’s shown glimpses of a goal scoring threat early on, but hasn’t been able to personally capitalize.

The rest of the Habs aren’t blameless. Goals – and scoring chances – have been difficult to come by early on, amidst roster wide player turnover and different playing styles from that which made them dangerous during their playoff run.

And we haven’t even touched on Carey Price and Shea Weber. Montreal has had just as rough a start prior to the 3-0 win over a short-staffed Detroit Red Wings.

Caufield thrived as a quick strike threat during the playoffs, but especially from in the medium danger zone, that spot on the ice where potent wrist or snap shots are most effective. His shot locations are documented here, courtesy of HockeyViz.com.

Cole Caufield New Season Shot Location
Cole Caufield New Season Shot Location

The style of game Montreal played during the postseason, relied on smothering the area between the dots, forcing teams to play on the perimeter and exploiting the transition in the event of turnovers. If that didn’t work, Carey Price stood on his head to make vital saves and they went back the other way.

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Quick transition has a goal to induce chaos and break down structure, taking advantage of the disorder by creating immediate scoring threats amid the lack of structure. With defending teams on their heels, Caufield could dictate the pace and find dangerous areas. Over the postseason he was more electric than overly productive but considering he started last season in College, to being productive in the NHL playoffs an route to a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but the progression was there, the coming out party to ignite visions of a front runner candidate for the Calder Trophy.

Cole Caufield 2021 Playoffs Performance at 5v5
Cole Caufield 2021 Playoffs Performance at 5v5

These highlights here show some of the instances during the playoffs where he established himself as a scoring threat. Be mindful of the distances where he’s firing the shots from and how open he is in other instances.

Video is courtesy of InStat.

This season’s start in conjunction with the abysmal offensive production from the Habs all round, Caufield is attempting to fire from different areas, some in high danger spots, and a few in the area around the face off dots.

Despite hitting the net – with an adequately ready goaltender to save the shot – and since he’s most dangerous doing this, he could use more repetitions to play off the percentages. He’s also often shooting into traffic in front of him and passes up and other playmaking options, resulting in hitting opposing defenders, outright missing, or just firing at odd angles. As a natural shooter, it’s not a fault, but if there’s no clear shooting lane, he could do a better job to find alternatives instead of just firing into shins and skates.

We can see some of that in this snippet from shots early on in this season.

Linemates have had an impact and until the final game before being sent down, he shared the ice with the likes of Tyler Toffoli – who is struggling on his own despite the assist on the Suzuki goal in the first period against Detroit – and defensive forward, Mathieu Perreault (shown her from HockeyViz.com) – who was also placed on injured reserve on Monday.

Caufield’s played alongside them for almost as much time without them entirely. He clearly has more success with a player like Toffoli rather than the Perrault with results shown from Natural Stat Trick. The table below shows how the players performed as a line (top row) and without one or more of the players on this line, with the bottom row isolating Caufield entirely.

Player 1

Player 2

Player 3

TOI

CF

xGF

HDCF

MDCF

LDCF

OISH%

Cole Caufield

Tyler Toffoli

Mathieu Perreault

35.70

40

1.78

11

13

13

7.14

Cole Caufield

Tyler Toffoli

w/o Mathieu Perreault

29.38

20

0.75

0

12

8

0

Cole Caufield

w/o Tyler Toffoli

Mathieu Perreault

6.60

4

0.31

3

1

0

0

Cole Caufield

w/o Tyler Toffoli

w/o Mathieu Perreault

39.90

35

0.92

3

10

19

0

A direct comparison of his NHL debut in 2020-21 with 2021-22 with almost similar minutes played at 5v5 show very different results. Of note is the on-ice shooting percentage … it’s very difficult to get results when operating with an on-ice percentage hovering around two percent. All other variables – the scoring chances, even broken down by danger, high, med and low, they’re all within a similar range.

Cole Caufield Season Comparison at 5v5
Cole Caufield Season Comparison at 5v5

During the 2021 playoffs, the Canadiens were firing 22.5% at 5v4 in 43 minutes of ice time. Even at about half of that value early this season, Montreal’s 4.17% on-ice shooting percentage with Caufield on the ice speaks volumes about the Canadiens overall play, not just limited specifically to his ineffectiveness.

Cole Caufield Season Comparison at 5v4
Cole Caufield Season Comparison at 5v4

The table lists results from the regular season – for a universal comparison, but the time on ice shows that he was in a supporting role in 2020-21, and in a prime role in 2021-22.

The disparity in expected goals, at 2.54 versus 1.01 last season, in conjunction with his individual expected goals metric has benefitted from only a small increase. The individual shots attempts (iCF) accounted for one quarter of the on-ice production.

Montreal has two separate issues at play here. Caufield’s development would better serve him to play out inconsistencies with Laval in the AHL, while the Habs work out their on-ice issues at the NHL level.

Beating a depleted Detroit was a start. Now, they just need to build on the positives attained in that win.