Last season featured some extreme ups and downs for winger Cole Caufield. Now, with a full season of Martin St. Louis behind the bench, what should the Canadiens be expecting from the 21-year-old?
After a strong showing in the playoffs, expectations were through the roof for Caufield. This, despite having all of 30 games of NHL experience under his belt, two-thirds of which came in Montreal’s improbable playoff run.
While Caufield saw regular power play time, his minutes were somewhat limited under Dominique Ducharme. Part of that was because the team was struggling and the coach was relying on his veterans to try to help them get through what wound up being several tough stretches. The other part was that Caufield simply couldn’t score. He had one goal – one! – in 30 games. Even fourth liners can do better than that but he was just snake bitten and eventually, his overall game started to go downhill. Rookies can go through some tough stretches in their first full NHL season but this took the word frustrating to a whole new level.
Then St. Louis took over. From there, Caufield was the type of player many expected him to be, the one that was the favourite to win the Calder Trophy back in training camp. He scored four goals in his first four games under the new bench boss and took off from there, averaging nearly a point per game while his ice time jumped up to over 18 minutes a night. Part of that was due to the fact that St. Louis’ marching orders were to play the youngsters, part was Caufield’s positive regression to the mean (a 1.4 shooting percentage is unsustainable), and another part was him simply stepping up and earning the ice time. His turnaround was a positive moment in a season that quite frankly didn’t have many of them.
Season Stats: 67 games, 23 goals, 20 assists, 43 points, -24 rating, 10 PIMS, 5 PPG, 3 GWG, 188 shots, 16:41 ATOI
Usually, at this point in our fantasy columns, we’d look at the five-year averages. There aren’t any with Caufield; his only other regular season experience was ten games out of college. There isn’t much of anything to glean from that time from a predictive standpoint so let’s move on.
There seems to be an overwhelming expectation that Caufield will pick up where he left off last season. He’ll be a permanent fixture on the top line, score at close to a similar rate, and become one of Montreal’s top single-season goalscorers in a long time. That all sounds nice but is probably also unrealistic.
Will Caufield see a lot of time on the front line? Probably. But Montreal’s forward depth is quite strong right now and as we’ve talked about before, there is an organizational need to have some of their tradable pieces put into situations that will allow them to have success to improve their trade value. At times, that’s probably going to be on the top line with Caufield perhaps dropping down at times. Realistically, there will be times when the offence is struggling and the lines need to be shaken up with their young duo of him and Nick Suzuki being broken up. I’m not saying it’ll happen frequently and for long stretches but there will still be some up and down movement when it comes to his five-on-five placement.
That said, it shouldn’t be the case when it comes to his power play deployment. While there will be some shuffling at times on the man advantage, the fixtures on the top unit should be Caufield and Suzuki so there shouldn’t be as much movement as there will be at even strength. As for the penalty kill, well, that’s not going to happen.
The proper question to ask when it comes to Caufield isn’t which version from the last season is the true one. Obviously, he shouldn’t be as bad as he was under Ducharme but I don’t think he’ll play at the same level he did under St. Louis either which was almost entirely spent in the hockey equivalent of garbage time with no pressure to try to win. For me, the right question is how close can he get to that mark?
Earlier, I mentioned how a 1.4 shooting percentage wasn’t sustainable. Neither is 19.3. That’s the shooting percentage he had under St. Louis. Even the top scorers in the league don’t produce at that rate. There will be some regression on that front.
Nevertheless, even with that regression, the end result should be some improvement on his 2021-22 numbers. He has had a full offseason to recover compared to the shortest one in NHL history when the Habs got to the Stanley Cup Final. He’s playing in what should be more of an offence-oriented system and generally speaking, young players are on an upward trajectory at this stage of his career. If you’re a believer in contract years being meaningful, there’s that too.
While he will probably be on the top line in Montreal, Caufield shouldn’t be on the ‘top line’ of a fantasy team. That day might come but not yet. He’s a second-line option in pretty much all formats which should put him in the seventh to ninth round in standard-sized leagues, fifth or sixth in deeper pools. His average Yahoo ADP is around 100 right now which seems a bit early while on ESPN, it’s 124 which seems a bit late. There’s some upside if he produces at or close to the level of the second half of last season but be wary of overreaching to get it.
Have Your Say