Every team has one. He’s the guy that the coach seems to favor and give prime opportunities to despite a total and complete lack of evidence this person deserves it. When we were kids, it was probably the coach’s son. In the NHL, it’s a lot less likely the favored player will be related to the coaching staff in some way. I mean, except that time Will Acton was told to buy a house. Remember that? Great times.
Anyway, on the Oilers the player occupying that spot appears to be Drake Caggiula. Now, I’m sure Drake Caggiula is a really nice person who always does the dishes on Thanksgiving and Easter, but on-ice there’s a lot to be desired. For that reason, it’s eyebrow raising when he finds himself next to McDavid on the first line, on the first (or second or third…) unit power play, and taking shifts in OT.
To be fair to Todd McLellan and the coaching staff, these aren’t always regular occurrences, but they happen enough to make you scratch your head. They happen enough to make me question why I mistrust Caggiula at all. McLellan is not a dumb man and certainly knows more about hockey than I ever will. So maybe he’s onto something.
I just can’t figure out what that might be.
Drake Caggiula is 23 years old, and turns 24 in June. He was undrafted, which is not surprising for a 5’10” player who appeared in just 25 OJHL games in his draft year. He joined the University of North Dakota and played four full seasons for the team before signing with Edmonton as a free agent. He spent exactly zero minutes in the AHL, graduating directly to the NHL where he has played 97 games (plus 13 in the playoffs), and has 13-16-29 to show for it.
It is my personal opinion that Drake Caggiula would be a point per game player in the AHL, which I think would have been good for him to experience as a professional. However, as an NHL player I see a player who is not noticeably fast and certainly not productive. I think his best attribute is probably his physicality. When he is on his game, he forechecks very hard and looks to finish the play with contact. He is third among Oiler forwards in hits with 95 in just 37 games.
Of course when it comes to hitting, you want to make sure that good things happen as a result. As in, you hit to separate the player from the puck and regain possession. Patrick Maroon is second among the forwards in hits, but he’s also third in shot attempt percentage. He’s a physical player who uses that ability to get control of the puck. Drake Caggiula…well, there’s work to be done.
This takes us to the part where I struggle to see the same value in Drake Caggiula that the coaching staff sees. Caggiula is among Edmonton’s lowest performers in a lot of important categories. I’ve limited the list to just forwards who have played at least 200 minutes 5v5. That leaves us with 13 players.
Drake Caggiula is eighth in 5v5 TOI with 424:19 and ninth in 5v5 TOI/G with 11:28 per game. He will likely pass Cammalleri for eighth in TOI/G as the season closes, but I doubt he goes past Strome, who is seventh.
Offensively, Caggiula is ranked 11th among Oiler forwards in Points Per 60 Minutes 5v5 (1.13 P/60). He does better in just goal scoring and worse in assists. We can say that playmaking is not really his strong suit. He’s ninth in shots per 60 minutes with 6.65 Sh/60 this season. The 1.13 Points per 60 minutes is exactly the same rate of production that he had last year as well. At 23 years of age, we wonder how much better we can expect Caggiula to perform in the future.
As concerning as it is that Caggiula is producing so little compared to his teammates, it’s equally as problematic what is happening in general when he’s on the ice. Caggiula is dead last among Oiler forwards in Shot Attempt Percentage (48.5 CF%). He is dead last in Unblocked Shot Attempt Percentage (48.5 FF%). He is 12th in Shots For percentage (48.2 SF%). When Drake Caggiula is on the ice, the Oilers have their worst outcomes with the puck. Those percentages for the various shot metrics are driven by the same thing: with Caggiula on the ice the Oilers allow more shots and attempts against, of every kind, than with any other forward out there.
I know that those who are skeptical of shot attempts care much more about goals for and against. I get that. So let’s take a look at the goals for and against as well. Drake Caggiula has a Goals For Percentage of just 36.1% this year (11 of 13). When he’s on the ice, the Oilers score just 1.84 goals for per 60 minutes (fifth lowest) and allow 3.25 goals against per 60 minutes (highest). He’s only been on the ice for 13 5v5 goals for but been on for 23 against. Only Mark Letestu has a worse goal differential (-11 for Letestu, -10 for Caggiula).
Situationally, Caggiula has some strange stuff going on. He has played roughly 23% of his 5v5 time with McDavid, but that’s where 63% of his 5v5 offense has come from. With 97 he is producing 3.02 P/60 but away from him Caggiula is actually producing just 0.55 P/60. Speaking of his time with McDavid, there’s some good news and bad news there. The good news is that with McDavid and Caggiula on the ice together, the Oilers are scoring 4.22 goals per 60 minutes. The bad news is that the duo is still below 50% in goals for percentage because the team has allowed 5.43 goals against per 60 with them out there. For McDavid, he’s played roughly 12% of his 5v5 minutes with Caggiula, but that’s where 28% of his goals against come from.
This might seem overly harsh on Drake Caggiula, but he is exactly the type of player that Edmonton should be looking to replace. It’s not his fault that the depth on the wings is so poor this year that he’s getting time with 97 and special teams, but moving forward I struggle to see where he belongs. He hasn’t had success on the fourth line and even the positives from playing with McDavid are overshadowed by the negatives.
I can’t say why the coaching staff seems to give Caggiula so many prime opportunities beyond simply having no other choices. However, it is harder and harder to justify playing him higher than the fourth line in the NHL.