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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

RFA Profile: Drake Caggiula is still carving out a niche

Part of the reason Peter Chiarelli viewed Jordan Eberle as expendable, I think, was what appeared to be a glut of secondary scoring on the wings ready to take a step forward. One of those wingers expected to take on a bigger role on the team after the Eberle trade was Drake Caggiula, Edmonton’s big college free agent signing from summer 2016 who was coming off a solid rookie season.

Caggiula had a dream 2015-16 season with the University of North Dakota. Along with Brock Boeser, Troy Stetcher, and Nick Schmaltz, Caggiula’s Fighting Sioux won the NCAA Championship. Caggiula earned tournament MVP and a wealth of other NCAA awards, making him one of the most sought-after college free agents on the market that summer.

He inked a two-year, entry-level deal with the Edmonton Oilers and was expected to immediately jump into a top-nine role in the NHL. He started the 2016-17 season on the Injured Reserve and, when he returned, was thrown into a difficult role as the team’s third centre. His natural position is on the wing, but the Oilers had a need down the middle as Leon Draisaitl had found incredible chemistry on the top line with Connor McDavid.

In 60 games, Caggiula put up seven goals and 18 points, which isn’t great, but reasonable considering the role he was thrown into. In the playoffs, the Oilers rolled with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as their three centres, pushing Caggiula back to the wing. He scored three goals in 13 games and was a consistent offensive threat.

But, like a handful of players who looked pretty good in last year’s playoffs, things didn’t transition perfectly to the 2017-18 season. Caggiula’s role as the third centre was filled by Ryan Strome, but he never really found a consistent position on the wing. He bounced up and down the lineup, in and out of the press box, and ultimately put up a pretty disappointing 13 goals and 20 points in 67 games. His 0.30 points-per-game last year was identical to his production in his rookie season.

Apr 18, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Drake Caggiula (36) shoots as San Jose Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon (4) defends during the first period in game four of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

So, through his two seasons in the NHL, Drake Caggiula doesn’t really have a role on the team. We all knew that his time as the third centre on the team wasn’t going to be a permanent thing, but we did expect him to have a better time than he did when back in his natural position.

One thing I find a little damning about Caggiula is how he wasn’t able to gel with Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Both of Edmonton’s two centres were much, much better without Caggiula on their line than they were with him on their line. (Note: These are Caggiula’s top three centre linemates based on even strength minutes, I didn’t include Ryan Nugent-Hopkins because the sample size was too small)

Caggiula w/ McDavid: 39.5 CF%, 45.5 GF% – McDavid w/o Caggiula 52.6 CF%, 62.0 GF%

Draisaitl w/ Caggiula: 49.6 CF%, 43.8 GF% – Draisaitl w/o Caggiula 51.7 CF%, 50.6 GF%

Caggiula w/ Strome: 52.6 CF%, 35.7 GF% – Strome w/o Caggiula: 50.0 CF%, 56.4 GF%

Like I said, both McDavid and Draisaitl were much better with anybody else on their wing than Caggiula last year. Caggiula’s best results came in a checking role on the third line with Ryan Strome as the two put up a strong shot attempt differential, though they did struggle to find the back of the net.

Expectations that Caggiula could jump into the top six and replace an all-star like Eberle’s production were clearly too lofty. Still, this is a 24-year-old player with only 127 games of NHL experience. Last year was really his first in the NHL as a winger and he spent it being jumbled around the lineup. This is the kind of player the Oilers need to show some patience with. Too many times in the past have they expected a player to take on a role bigger than their capability and then they’ve given up on them when they failed to perform.

The Oilers need cheap players to plug into their lineup, and coming off an entry-level deal with a salary of $925,000, Caggiula will be inexpensive to qualify and keep around. He still hasn’t carved out a niche, but giving him a consistent role, perhaps on the third line with Strome, would be very helpful for his development.

Drake Caggiula’s stats

Edmonton’s salary cap situation

    • OilerForLife

      Drake Caggiula is just fine – played with a busted up face, and pulled his mask off to fight – and win it as well.

      He made the NHL on his first try, and improved his stats playing lower in the lineup and playing less games last year. 23 years old, plays with grit, and plays with 100% effort regardless of the score, or whether he’s in a playoff race or not. Big upside

      Most teams would jump at the chance to snag a player like that, but of course chicken little syndrome hits Edmonton.

  • crabman

    Caggiula will/should be back next year. The team will need cheap contracts on the wing. I liked the grit he played with after coming back after taking a puck to the face and losing all those teeth. Most people coming back with a facemask on avoid the tough areas on the ice but not Caggiula.
    He is one of the team leaders in hits and plays hard. If he was 6.2 & 215lbs he would be the traditional prototypical bottom 6 winger. He is still rough around the edges and will probably never establish himself as a top 6 guy but a guy worth having around at least another year. He should be qualified, I believe just over $1M, but try to improve the lineup so he is expected to play on the 4th line.

    • OilersBro

      The dude took a puck to the face, got his teeth messed up and still ripped his helmet off to fight. Regardless of skill, you can’t argue that he doesn’t have heart and grit

    • fasteddy

      Completely agree; maybe the fancy stats say he sucks, but by eye he sure doesn’t to me. Love how quickly he gets in on the forecheck. Guy never avoids the tough areas. And he pops the odd one too. All season I haven’t understood the desire to dump on this guy. Sure he’s not a dangler, but there are only so many of those guys to go around. I’d take his effort and speed anyday. He might just figure out a way to make his tenaciousness result in more points too. Kinda reminds me a bit of Raffi…just the type of player that chips in a couple gritty goals in a tight playoff series.

    • crabman

      With experience I would hope he could turn into a good pk man. But last year he was one of the worst forwards in that role. But with a better system and more experience he could fill that role better next year.

  • #97TRAIN

    Not saying I’d do this but would Draisaitl and someone for Doughty be a deal that anyone would want us to make? I love Draisaitl but money would have to go the other way.

    • The Whispererer

      Why would $$ have to go the other way ? Doughty’s next contract will likely be $3 million AAV higher than Draisaitl. And no, i wouldn’t do this trade. It would leave the Oilers in Cap Hell for the next 7 years without any room to build a team around their 2 superstars.

  • camdog

    He’s the new Yakapov. He skates around the ice as hard as he can but doesn’t really do much as his positional play is weak. The one thing he is good at is agitating, however he’ll also be the guy that takes the bad penalty at wrong time. If he can learn he can be more, if not he’s a good agitating fourth liner.

  • kelvjn

    “Caggiula w/ Strome: 52.6 CF%, 35.7 GF% – Strome w/o Caggiula: 50.0 CF%, 56.4 GF%”

    Even Strome played better without Caggiula, no?

    If this year’s performance counts he should be off to the 4th line or press box next year. If this year’s stats doesn’t count why mention it in the article?

  • nbandito

    -Why wasn’t he given some time to mature as a pro in the AHL? Yes he’s a tad older but he’s struggled at times and could have used time to adjust to the systems against lesser competition. Were there promises made to keep him in the NHL as part of his signing?

    • fasteddy

      Of course there were. Same goes for a lot of high draft picks; they entice them to sign their entry level deals by offering to keep them in the show for a few games early on in season to collect some big league paycheques. A player like Yamo banks more in a month on the big team than many do in a full season in the A. And that wouldn’t be an Oiler thing, I presume most teams do this sort of thing with their draft picks and free agents.

  • Big Nuggets

    I hate to leave comment that will get roundly trashed, but I know of a RW that could help with our depth, he has a great shot, he could be had for cheap, highly skilled player that just hasn’t found his groove. Any interest in Yakupov? Anybody playing on McNuge line will get some goals. It could be the break he needs to get success. Tell him to keep it simple, try not to make too many mistakes and cash in goals.

    • Arfguy

      Honestly, I would like to have Yakupov back in the fold. He will basically cost nothing, but he is fast and young. Unless the Oilers find some hidden talent that no one is noticing (any chance they can swipe Dzingle from Ottawa?), this is something that I think is worth trying. Biggest thing I like about Yakupov’s game: he can actually skate.

  • @S_2_H

    Maybe the coaching staff should try and create some chemistry with lines next year so we can truly see what we have. I’m sure we set some kind of record for line combinations this year. Why the constant line blender McLennan ran all year doesn’t get more press or heat is beyond me.

  • KennyG

    Give the young guys time including him. The only thing that will help the oilers besides Father Time would be trading Leon for multi player deal. 3-1 kinda deal. Goalie, RD,and Center. Let’s be honest, the only player left with value is Leon as Connor is going nowhere. So do the time or dump a big salary for help now?

  • 0W-20

    Caggiula is the definition of a replacement-level player, he shouldn’t be signed for more than $950k or whatever EDM can bury in the AHL without incurring any cap penalty. His ceiling is a 4th line winger, no more. Of course Chiarelli will offer him a 3-yr. deal @ $1.1M AAV, because he cannot properly evaluate talent.

    • I see nothing wrong with $1Mx3 for a player like Caggiula. He’s got a heavy enough game to play on the bottom 6 and has enough skill to provide some production. We’re going to need affordable players that can skate.

  • Glencontrolurstik

    To be fair, not many players on this team have had a consistent role.
    Hopefully next season, when the regular season starts, training camp ends & doesn’t carry through until the new year? We can only hope.