Cole Caufield played five games for the United States at this World Junior Championship (WJC), scoring 4 points including 2 goals with a differential of -2.
Although the Tricolore’s prospect still plays quite well for the US team, being among the top 5 or 6 forwards in his country, he did not significantly contribute to the US victories either. Moreover, he does not produce offensively to the extent of his talent, despite being given a great deal of chances to score.
Well, it’s true that a lot of players have lived through WJCs « average » or worse (like Nick Suzuki in 2019 for instance) and still had great careers in the NHL. Others were not even selected to participate in this event and are now stars of the National League. But the fact remains that fans expected a little more from the young player for this tournament, his second in this case.
It’s not that Caufield is playing poorly overall. However, a significant share of his on-ice appearances show potential, titillate enthusiasm, and ultimately lead nowhere. In addition, Caufield is guilty of too many turnarounds and will have to make adjustments for the semifinals against Finland or risk the wrath of his coach.
Watch this short video of the young forward’s performance against Sweden on December 31 to see for yourself what it’s all about. Witness all this talent in action for so few concrete results.
Despite an ordinary tournament so far, Caufield shows progress
If Caufield’s performance at WJC 2021 is not to impress the most skeptical about his game, it is still possible to identify some improvements compared to 2020.
The most important of these improvements comes from the diversification of Cole Caufield’s game with possession of the puck, a major change since last year that could be very benefic in the long term.
Prior to this season, Caufield was a pure sniper, leaving zone entrances and the role of main puck distributor to his teammates. However, this year Caufield has really been working hard to become an effective puck carrier in the neutral zone and offensive zone, able to distribute the puck AND shoot, which makes him more difficult to counteract because he is now less predictable.
In addition, the small wing’s skate has improved slightly, especially his acceleration, allowing the Canadiens’ prospect to get into position more quickly both offensively and defensively. While more progress is needed if Caufield is to maximize his 5-on-5 efficiency in the National Hockey League and not just be a power play specialist, the progress already made is encouraging.
It’s also important to recognize that the things Caufield says he has worked on the most, his defensive involvement and efforts in the neutral zone, are much better in 2021 compared to last season. Unfortunately, they are still clearly below the NHL average despite these efforts, and are still one of his weaknesses, along with his short range and lack of physical strength.
What does all this mean for Cole Caufield’s future?
Well, Caufield has not been dominant so far at WJC 2021. But the tangible progress he has shown in comparison to 2019-2020 is far more important than any lack of production given the small sample size of the tournament. Moreover, the overall appreciable quality of his play, especially in his match against Slovakia, helps to dispel many of the concerns about him.
And if the young prospect continue to progress at the same pace, a very interesting career in the NHL awaits him. As such, if he reaches his full potential, the young forward should be able to become a first trio winger and eclipse the 30 goals per season mark with consistency in the uniform of the Montreal Canadiens. Let’s just say that such a player would be very, very useful to the Canadiens right now.
Finally, for those who would like to continue to follow Cole Caufield’s performances, he and his team will be looking to secure a spot in the final of WJC 2021 today at 9:30 p.m. Eastern time against Finland.
Translated by Michel-Alexandre Broekaert