The Oilers signed NCAA free agent winger Drake Caggiula ten days ago. Caggiula capped off his four year career at the University of North Dakota by winning a National Championship. Caggiula improved every year and many NHL teams tried to sign him, but he chose Edmonton.
Let’s find out why, and what type of player the Oilers added to their organization.
Caggiula stands 5’10” and weighs 185 pounds. He isn’t big, but he goes to high traffic areas. “I think he is NHL ready right now. He skates very well, has great hockey sense, and he’s very competitive. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and plays better when he’s annoying the opposition,” an NHL scout told me last week when I asked for a scouting report.
I spoke with Caggiula last week on my radio show, and what stood out the most for me was who he tries to model his game after. I discovered Caggiula is unlike any other small, skilled forward the Oilers have in the organization. You’ll see why when you read his response to who he models his game after.
**My thoughts are in italics.**
Jason Gregor: Do your friends call you ‘The
friends don’t call me that, but we have a few fans here in North Dakota who after
games would tweet if I played well, or if I didn’t play so well, they would
tweet ‘Love The Drake’ or ‘hate The Drake.’ We have some comics around here (laughs).
Gregor: That’s awesome. I could see Oilers fans doing
the same. You had an opportunity to talk to a lot of teams as a free agent.
What was it about the Oilers organization that had you choose them?
Caggiula: One of
the biggest things is that they reminded me of Grand Forks here in North
Dakota. it just felt like a special place. The coaching staff was great, the
general manager [Peter] Chiarelli was great, I just felt very comfortable with
everyone in the organization and everyone told me to follow your heart and
follow your gut. My gut and heart were telling me to go to Edmonton and I
couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Gregor: So you met with Chiarelli, did you also
meet with the coaching staff or just the GM?
Caggiula: I met
with coach [Todd] McLellan as well.
Gregor: And that’s crucial, especially as a guy
who went through the recruiting process before, knowing who the coach is going
to be. What did McLellan say he would expect from you as far as what he liked
about your game?
Caggiula: He told
me he watched a few games, he’d seen me play live in person, he’s also watched
a couple of my games on TV and he said he liked my style of play; it would fit
in well with this system.
He said he was
looking for a little bit of a grittier player, and I think that I can bring
that element to the game. He was very complimentary of my game. Obviously I’m
going to have to do a lot of work this summer to prepare myself for the next
level, but he was pretty adamant about helping me out and doing whatever he can
to make me a better player.
Gregor: What do you feel you need to do to be
successful at the NHL level?
you just have to elevate every aspect of your game and then being a smaller
forward, you just have to be as strong as possible, as fast as possible, work
on your skating as much as possible. And like I said, being small I’ve got to
make sure I can win those puck battles in the corners and all of that kind of
stuff, they’ll have to change my game from college to the next level. I’ll just
have to make sure I do everything a little bit better.
Gregor: Was the possibility
of maybe playing with Connor McDavid sometime in the next few years a factor in
Caggiula: Yeah, maybe a little bit. Obviously he’s a world class player,
he’s probably the best player in the NHL right now. He’s obviously a star and
if you ever have an opportunity to play with him, why wouldn’t you want to? But
if you look up and down the lineup, there is talented players all throughout
the organization and whether you’re playing with him, or [Leon] Draisaitl or [Ryan]
Nugent-Hopkins or anyone else down the line, you’re playing with some talented
players who are going to help you further your game and develop you into a
better player. I think that from top to bottom their organization is just a ton
of talent and I know you can’t go wrong with them.
***It isn’t easy to play with skilled players, but he has proven he can. You have to have the good hockey sense to anticipate what they will do, and where they want the puck to go. His style of play could see him float between the first and third lines.**
Gregor: When you met with
coach McLellan and Peter Chiarelli, were there any promises as far as icetime
or was it ‘we’ll give you opportunities, but it’s going to be up to you whether
or not you start the year in the NHL or in Bakersfield’?
Caggiula: Yeah, absolutely, there was never any promises and I wasn’t
even looking for any. You go out, you earn your spot and you earn everything
that you get. I’m a huge believer in working until you get something. They said
they are going to give me an opportunity, they never promised me anything, but
they just said come into camp and you have the opportunity to make this team.
That’s what you’ve got to do. You have to work and make sure that you put your
best foot forward to make the team. We are going to help you and do everything
we can to make sure that you can make the team, but ultimately it’s up to me
and it depends on how my camp goes.
**I’m sure some are leery of Caggiula being handed an opportunity after watching what happened with Justin Schultz. It won’t happen with Caggiula. The Oilers have many proven skilled wingers. He won’t be force fed minutes. If he proves he can contribute he’ll get icetime, but I don’t see the Oilers rushing him like they did with Schultz.**
Gregor: Outside of just
looking at the Oilers roster, did you scan the minor league roster? Because I
can tell you that the Oilers don’t have much depth when it comes to legit, offensive
guys and I think that that describes your game. Was knowing if you don’t make
the Oilers you probably have a really good chance to be a top line guy at the American
League factor into your decision?
Caggiula: Yeah, absolutely. You can’t just bank on getting to play in
the NHL right away because that may not be realistic and you have to look at
all of the different options. If I have to go down to Bakersfield then there is
a high possibility that I can go down and be an offensive guy there. Talking to
the people throughout the organization and hearing what they have to say, it
sounds like if I go down there it will be a good opportunity for me to develop
my pro game and I’m looking forward to whatever the next step is moving forward.
***The Oilers don’t have many pure offensive scores in the AHL. Jujhar Khaira, Bogdan Yakimov and Anton Slepyshev have some skill, but I’m not sure any of them are looked at as dynamic offensive players. Caggiula is dynamic. He is more skilled than Andrew Miller, and if he starts in Bakersfield, I expect he will be on their #1 line.***
Gregor: Do you have a few buddies who have made the jump from the NCAA
to pro in the past few years that you have talked to about what will be your biggest
Caggiula: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of teammates that have all gone on and
played whether it’s in the National Hockey League, or the American Hockey
League, they all say the same thing: that the game is relatively the same as
college. It’s just the game is much faster than it is in college and it’s a
little more controlled, but at the same time because it’s so controlled and so
structured it makes the game feel a lot faster and obviously the players are bigger,
faster, stronger. Everyone said takes a little while to get accustomed to it,
but once you get the hang of it, it’s not as much of a dramatic jump as some people
think. You just have to be confident in your abilities and go out there and
play the way that you normally do.
Gregor: How many teams did
you have serious conversations with about signing?
Caggiula: Um, I mean I’m not really supposed to send out that number
but there was a handful of teams that I had taken a deep look at and ultimately
it came down the two, Edmonton and Vancouver. It has nothing to do with what
kind of organization Vancouver is, I just felt more comfortable with Edmonton.
It was just a personal choice and I can’t say enough good things about all of
the teams in the league. Everyone gave me a great experience, but ultimately it
came down to just where I felt more comfortable and ultimately that was
Gregor: Who would you
describe your game as similar to for Oiler fans who haven’t seen you play?
Caggiula: I would probably say I model my game after someone like Zach
Parise or Brad Marchand, smaller forwards who play hard and fast but who also
have the offensive abilities and are able to chip in on the offensive side. But
being a smaller player you have to play with grit, but those are two players
that I definitely try to model my game after.
***The Oilers haven’t had an annoying gnat on their team in a long time. Small, skilled players with an edge can be very effective. Marchand and Brendan Gallagher are very valuable in Boston and Montreal and if Caggiula can become that guy in Edmonton he’d be an instant fan favourite. When he compared himself to Marchand, it became obvious why Chiarelli was so high on him.**
Gregor: Are you that much of
a pest like Marchand? Oiler fans haven’t had a guy like that in a long time!
Caggiula: I don’t know if I’m as much of a pest as he is, but I try to
get under guys’ skin. I kind of walk the line, I try not to go over the line,
but I definitely flirt with it sometimes.
Gregor: You have to be
fearless, and if you’re going to cross that line eventually there’s going to be
some repercussions. Are you prepared for those repercussions in the NHL?
Caggiula: Yeah, absolutely, anytime you’re walking that fine line you
might get a punch in the face or something like that, but like I said, I kind
of embrace that. It’s a part of my game and being a little pest you’re going to
get some slashes or punches or something after the whistle or maybe a bit more
than that, but I’ve learned to embrace it. I try to walk the line, but not
cross it. However, sometimes emotions get the best of you and stuff happens,
but hey that’s hockey and I just have to make sure I go out and play and keep
Gregor: Are you planning on
coming to part of the rookie camp in the summer?
Caggiula: Yeah, absolutely. I think that I have to finalize some summer
plans here with the coaching staff and the management over there, but I think
that the plan is to come in for the development camp in early July and maybe
stay a couple of weeks and do some training there as well.
Gregor: You’ve played around
40 games a season for the past four years. In the American League you’re going
to be playing close to seventy if you make the Oilers it will be eighty. How do
you alter your training to try and have your body used to more wear and tear? Can you do it?
Caggiula: Yeah, I think you work with your personal trainers and then
you work with the managers, and the trainers in the Edmonton organization.
They’re going to try to find the best way to help myself and every other rookie
prepare for it as much as possible. Everyone’s body is different, everyone is
going to train a little bit differently and I think the biggest thing is not peaking
too early in the summer.
Your body is getting ready to peak right at the start of the season. Being in
college, we didn’t start playing until the middle of October. Summers are long
and you train for a long time but you try to make sure that you are peaking in
October and getting ready for the season. The NHL season is a lot longer, so I
will have to adjust. I think that will be hardest adjustment.
Gregor: Now for you, and
you’re a young guy at twenty one years of age, but on that top line you are the
elder statesman with the younger skilled guys in [Nick] Schmaltz and [Brock]
Boeser who are both going back and both were high draft picks. You’ve proven
you can play with skilled players. How did they enhance your game?
Caggiula: They definitely enhanced my skill sets and any time you’re practising with those guys and playing with them every single day, you’re going
to pick up little things they do and vice versa, you’re going to pass on some
things to them. I think we did a great job this year, the three of us kind of
mentoring each other. Everyone kind of looked at me as you’re the older guy,
you have to mentor them and help them, but I learned just as much from them as
they probably learned from me and it was a tremendous year.
Gregor: Did Brock try to sway
you to sign with the Canucks, the team that drafted him last year?
Caggiula: I wouldn’t say he tried to sway me. Obviously he would have
liked for me to have been able to go there and play with him and we talked
about that. We’re close friends and he was ‘Hey whatever you want to do is up
to you and I wish you the best in whatever decision you make. If you choose
Vancouver that would be great, hopefully we can play on the same line down the
road together.’ We’re such good friends that I know he respected my decision
and it wasn’t a big deal to him.
Gregor: Who was your
favourite team growing up?
Caggiula: I’m from just outside of the Toronto area, so I grew up
cheering for the Maple Leafs and I went to a lot of Leaf games with my dad and
some of my friends, but I think I have a new favourite team right now.
Gregor: I know you mentioned
Parise and Marchand were guys that you modeled your game afterward, but who
was your favourite player growing up?
Caggiula: I liked Joe Sacic and Steve Yzerman. When I was really young I would always
pretend that I was them shooting pucks in my basement and stuff like that. They
were obviously world class players, Olympians, Stanley Cup Champions, great
leaders and all of that kind of stuff. My dad was a huge fan of them and I
Gregor: Were you always
planning to go the NCAA route, or did you ever think about major junior when
you were sixteen or seventeen years old?
Caggiula: I was drafted by the Eerie Otters and I had an opportunity to
play there as a sixteen year old but my body wasn’t quite developed. I was on
the smaller side and the lighter side of the scale and I just thought I’m going
to play Junior A and get a little bit bigger so that that way if I do step into
the OHL I’ll be ready. After doing that I gathered some interest from some NCAA
schools and went on a few visits and I just fell in love with the college atmosphere.
The crowds and the arenas and all of that sort of stuff. It changed my mind. I
realized that as a smaller player I needed more time to develop and improve my
game. I think it was the right choice for myself.
I got some tape of Caggiula and he is an agitator. He’s also very skilled. I spoke to numerous scouts and everyone of them felt he could step in and play next season. He turns 22 in June, so it’s not like he’s an 18 year old rookie out of junior.
I’m curious to see how he looks in training camp. It took Marchand a few years to become a solid point producer, so no one should expect big numbers from Caggiula right away. I believe Marchand-like production is best-case scenario, but if Caggiula can step into the lineup and contribute similarly to how Andrew Shaw did in Chicago the Oilers would be happy.
The simple fact he plays with an edge is a welcome change for me. For years the Oilers were a soft team and easy to play against. We saw that start to change last year, and Caggiula could add a dimension this team hasn’t had since in a long time: a skilled rat.
Edmonton First Responders Day
On June 9th, the City of Edmonton will be announcing the first annual First Responders Day in an effort to honour those that risk their lives to keep our city safe.
First Responders Day will be an official day where we to honour, celebrate, and support the first responders and their families, in addition to raising mental health awareness within the occupation. The event will showcase dozens of large fire vehicles, bomb squad display, canine dogs, jaws of life demonstration, raffles, live music, chili-cook off and much more.
If you would like to donate money to the cause there is a GoFundMe public campaign page for fundraising at www.gofundme.com/yegfirstresponders. Monies raised will be going to Legacy Place Society – as they wish to purchase a new house in Edmonton so they can better support all first responders and their families during times of crisis.
More information is available at www.facebook.com/yegfirstresponders
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