Despite Scoring Drop, Cole Caufield's 200-Foot Game Is Reason For Optimism

Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens
Toronto Maple Leafs v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

Coming into the Montreal Canadiens 2023-24 season, Cole Caufield was touted as a potential 50-goal scorer.

It hasn't played out that way, he has just 19 goals through 65 games; after scoring 26 goals in 46 games last year. And if you're looking strictly at his goal output, it's easy to ponder what has held him back. It's not as though he forgot how to shoot the puck or no longer possesses the shot that has made him lethal.

It hasn't worked out the way he has wanted, but there are a few reasons for optimism. His 200-foot game has shown significant improvements, and it has helped the top line assert themselves. Caufield's footspeed and smart positioning have been a great fit alongside Nick Suzuki and Juraj Slafkovsky.

Caufield's playmaking acumen has taken another step as well, although he has shot the puck a lot less, he is a deceptive passer. He has been more of the setup man for Suzuki, who benefitted from the great passes. And it's also noteworthy that while Caufield is healthy, he underwent a significant shoulder surgery.

I don't necessarily think that he has less power and velocity on his shot, but he is building up the rest of his game while adjusting to his surgically repaired shoulder. Yes, it has been close to a full season, but he has had to adjust and find new ways to put the puck in the net. And when he does, the Canadiens will be better for it, with a new and improved Caufield.

Caufield is also still learning the NHL game, and he and Suzuki have taken Slafkovsky under their wing. There are many scenarios where they try to work the puck to the 19-year-old. It's easy to forget that it is only Slafkovsky's sophomore season and the chemistry is still building up between the Habs under 25 number one line.

Martin St. Louis, his assistants and the Canadiens development staff have worked hard with Slafkovsky to become a complete player. It's obvious that the onus is the same for Caufield; they want the two talented wingers to hang with the opposition's best. I wouldn't say that I am disappointed, but more surprised he hasn't scored like he was expected to and, much more intrigued for next year.

With another top 10 pick likely added to the fold at the draft in June, hopefully a left shot forward who can shoot the puck will be selected. This will open up space for Caufield, that he doesn't currently have and either elevate the top unit or give the Habs two great units.