The Oilers signed Drake Caggiula to a two-year entry level deal on the weekend. Caggiula won a NCAA National Championship with North Dakota this spring, and the 5’10, 185 pound left shooting forward turns 22 in June.
Many NHL teams were trying to sign him, but he chose the Oilers, likely due to the lack of skilled forwards in their farm system — Jujhar Khaira, Anton Slepyshev, Bogdan Yakimov and Kyle Platzer are their best skilled forwards. Josh Winquist had 8-22-30 in 35 games in Bakersfield this year, but he was on an AHL-only contract. He’s arguably the most skilled forward prospect they have in the AHL, but he isn’t signed.
Caggiula gives them some organizational depth, but we should be cautious when predicting his NHL future.
“I think NCAA free agents have become the most overrated asset in hockey,” an NHL scout said to me last month. “You will find a few good ones, but the majority are over hyped,” he continued.
Teams over hype (and over pay) some players, but so do media and fans. It is best to have realistic expectations, and recognize most of these free agents can add solid organizational depth, but they are unlikely to be top-end NHL players.
Caggiula was never drafted, and while numerous teams tried to sign him, he wasn’t glorified to the degree we’ve seen with other NCAA players recently. He won’t be looked at as a saviour, just possibly another piece of the puzzle.
Jimmy Vesey was this year’s NCAA darling. He spurned the Predators, who drafted him 66th overall in 2012, and will be signed by another NHL team this August. He’ll likely get a bonus laden contract worthy of a top-five pick.
Recently Justin Schultz, Mike Reilly and Kevin Hayes all elected to test free agency after college, instead of signing with the team who drafted them, and were involved in different degrees of bidding wars.
Schultz was selected 43rd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008. The Oilers signed him in 2012 and gave him the rookie maximum salary complete with bonuses. He was force fed big minutes, and was given too much responsibility early in his career. Even after two uneventful seasons, the Oilers were still major believers and signed him to a one-year $3.6 million deal. He’s never lived up to the contract, but I blame the organization for overpaying him.
The Blackhawks selected Hayes 24th overall in 2010. He too choose free agency and signed with the Rangers in 2014. He got a $900,000 base and maximum bonuses. He tallied a solid 17-28-45 in 79 games last year and dipped to 14-22-36 this year. He was a very good signing. He has the 19th most goals from players drafted in 2010 despite only playing two NHL seasons.
The Blue Jackets drafted Reilly 98th overall in 2011. He signed with the Wild this past summer. He did not get a huge contract. He signed with a based of $925,000 and his “B” bonuses only totaled $750,000. He played 45 games in the AHL and 29 with the Wild.
Caggiula will be on TSN1260 today with me at 2:20 MST to discuss why the Oilers were the best fit for his pro career. You can listen online here.
Here are some recent undrafted NCAA free agents who panned out.
Tyler Bozak, Torey Krug and Danny Dekeyser have worked out very well for Toronto, Boston and Detroit.
Teddy Purcell has 101 goals in 550 games since being signed by the Kings in 2007. Matt Read, JT Brown, Matt Irwin and Edmonton area products, Mark Letestu, Ben Scrivens and Justin Fontaine have become regular NHLers.
It is worthwhile signing NCAA players, as long as your expectations are realistic. It is more likely they will be akin to Andrew Miller, a solid AHL player, than they will be regulars in the NHL.
Caggiula chose an organization with very little organization top-six depth. Peter Chiarelli and Todd McLellan don’t have to rush him to the NHL. If he comes to training camp and proves he is NHL-ready, great, but the Oilers should not rush him. I’m sure Connor McDavid factored into the equation as well. If you are a skilled forward, the potential to play with him is very enticing.
Treat him like most draft picks outside the first round. Let him develop in the AHL. Caggiula needed time in the NCAA to grow and mature. He wasn’t very big at 17, but he’s had four years to train and get stronger. He has always been an offensive player, and if he’s going to succeed in the NHL it is most likely in a top-six role.
His last two years at UND he produced 43-44-87 in 81 games. He hasn’t had to play a defensive role in his career, and if he starts in Bakersfield he’ll be in their top six. He gives them some much-needed organizational forward depth, and if he becomes an NHL regular that is a huge bonus.
The Oilers announced they have signed Cloud State forward Patrick Russell to a two-year entry-level contract. Russell is 6’1, 205 pounds and shoots right. He had 20-21-41 in 41 games this season. The Oilers desperately need some right-shot skilled forwards in the organization, so he fills a void.
He turned 23 in January and likely needs some AHL seasoning. He is a big body who is good down low in the offensive zone. He’ll need to improve his foot speed, like most prospects, to play in the NHL. He was used on the PK this past year in college. He isn’t a rugged bruiser, but he does go to high traffic areas.
- How good is Viktor Hedman right now? He had 4-4-8 in five games versus the Islanders and was a force defensively. It took him a few years to adapt to the NHL game, but his last three years have been spectacular. He is a UFA next summer, and if I’m Steve Yzerman and had to choose between him or Steven Stamkos. I’d keep Hedman all day.
- Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn are RFAs this year, while Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathon Drouin are RFAs next year. When you look at the Lightning’s cap situation and the fact they are in the conference finals without Stamkos, I can see why Yzerman is leery of a $9 or $10 million/year deal for Stamkos. When the Bolts went to the Cup finals last year, Stamkos was fifth on the team in goals.
- It is funny how the playoffs change from the first round to the second.
In the first round the team who won game one, won all eight series.
The home teams were only 19-28 (40.4 winning%).
In the second round the home teams are 13-7 (65w%) and San Jose is the only team who won game won leading their series. The Islanders are out, while the Capitals and Stars trail 3-2.
5th Annual WSOP Charity Tournament
This year’s tourney will be held at the Yellowhead Casino this year. It includes a complimentary lunch. We are already 40% sold out. It sells
out fast. You can sign up here. Good luck.
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