Drake Caggiula has played 127 NHL games. He scored seven goals in his first season, 60 games, and scored 13 times in 67 games this past year. He is still a very young player in terms of age, 23, experience, 127 games, and overall development.
Is Caggiula going to be a top-six forward? Unlikely.
Can he be an effective complimentary player for the Oilers moving forward? I believe he can, and that he has more potential than many believe.
On an Oilers team lacking in offensive depth, Caggiula finished fifth in goals. Patrick Maroon is no longer with the organization, so Caggiula was fourth among players who will return next season. Thirteen goals from a role player in his second NHL season is decent production.
No question, Caggiula needs to improve, and when we last spoke he gave a pretty honest assessment of his play.
What is the biggest area he needs to improve?
“Consistency is the biggest thing. I had an up and down season,” said Caggiula. “There were times where I thought I was playing great and then there were times when I got into a slump and couldn’t find a way out of it. I have to find a way to end those slumps a lot earlier and find a way to crawl out of those holes without dwelling on it,” Caggiula continued.
Confidence, or more accurately a lack of it, can derail a ten-year veteran, so it isn’t surprising an NHL sophomore struggled maintaining his. The harsh reality of the NHL is he will need to learn quickly how to avoid long slumps. You rarely become a veteran player if you can’t figure out how to play consistent hockey. Caggiula, like many other young players, will need to find ways to contribute when he isn’t scoring.
Caggiula has other assets. He is a good forechecker. For a smaller player he is quite physical, and can deliver a hard hit which can sometimes give a lagging team a boost. I see him as a bottom six forward, who has the potential and ability to moonlight in your top-six when necessary.
The truth is very few teams have six legitimate top-six forwards. The Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back Stanley Cups without six consistent, regular top-six forwards. They had three elite ones in Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. Patrik Hornqvist has also been a solid top-six forward. Chris Kunitz had been a very productive top-six forward for years, but by 2016 he was starting to slow down. But the Penguins had players who got hot for the playoffs, or even times in the regular season, and produced like top-six forwards.
In 2016, Nick Bonino had 18 points in 24 playoff games. He’d scored 29 points in the regular season. Carl Hagelin had 16 points in the playoffs. He has never scored more than 39 in any of his seven NHL regular seasons, but he was great in 2016.
In 2017, Connor Sheary had an excellent regular season scored 53 points in 61 games — legit top-six production. In his other 123 regular season games, before and after, he has 40 points. In 57 playoff games he has six goals and 19 points. He moonlighted for a regular season, which was important for home ice advantage, but he hasn’t been a consistent top-six point-producer.
In 2017, Jake Guentzel burst on the scene with 33 points in 40 games and added 13 goals in the playoffs. Guentzel is a top-six forward, but in the playoffs he becomes a top-line player. He has 23 goals in 37 career playoff games. He has 38 goals in 122 regular season games. He has been able to elevate his play at the most important time of the year.
Can Caggiula be similar to Sheary or Bryan Rust, solid bottom six forwards who, when needed, can move up and be complementary top-six forwards? I think he has that potential, and when you look at Caggiula, you don’t get frustrated because he isn’t a regular top-six forward thus far. Focusing on what he can’t do, shouldn’t deter from what he can.
You always want players to improve, but expecting massive gains is ill-advised. I think Peter Chiarelli and the Oilers erred when they felt Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, Jesse Puljujarvi, Matt Benning and other young players were all going to take big steps after the 2016/2017 season. They should expect improvements, but asking any of them to become regular top-six forwards, or a top-four D-man, were unrealistic.
“You want to improve every year, but for people to think you are going to take these massive jumps it, I don’t know if it is not realistic, but there are a select few players who can take those big jumps, players like Connor (McDavid), and for guys like myself I think I did take steps forward, but there are still part of my game I need to work on and get better. To go from year-to-year and have these crazy jumps, I don’t think it is realistic, but of course there are things you can improve on every year,” Caggiula said.
“I increased my goal scoring, which was something I wanted to do, but I had a lot more opportunities to score and hopefully next season I can cash in on more of those chances,” he continued.
It would be great if one of the Oilers had a William Karlsson-like breakout, but those types of seasons are massive outliers. Caggiula needs to improve, of course, but his gains most likely won’t be massive from year to year.
This was the first season he was exclusively a winger, and I’d hope the Oilers recognize he is natural winger, not a centre, like they tried in his first 20+ NHL games.
“I played wing in college for four years and whenever you play a natural position it allows you to do the things you are capable of doing and to stay within your own game. Playing wing all season helped me,” Caggiula said honestly. One of the keys of coaching is to put players in the best position to succeed. The fact the Oilers had to try him as a third line centre in 2016/2017 illustrated how much they lacked depth. If he has to play there the odd game, sure, but they would be better off finding a 13th or 14th forward who is a natural centre, so if an injury occurs to Ryan Strome or Jujhar Khaira, they have another bottom-six centre ready to slot in.
One area Caggiula struggled in early last season was on the penalty kill.
“I think at the start to the season I was getting a lot of penalty kill time and I didn’t really take advantage of it. There was simple coverages I was missing like seam passes and making the wrong reads, but as a whole the team wasn’t very good at penalty killing early on. We did individually improve later in the year, but I think if I had a better start on the penalty kill then I can increase my playing time. That is an area I want to embrace. I penalty killed in college and took pride in it and hopefully I can find a home on the PK as well.
Why were you making the wrong reads on the PK, I asked?
“I think experience was one thing and sometimes you give players too much respect. You see these superstar players, and what they want is time and space, and sometimes, I don’t want to say you get in awe of the player, but you kind of sit back and think ‘this is a good player and we are going to give him more respect,’ and often that gets you in deep holes. I think being more aggressive and sharper with reads will go a long way in helping the penalty kill,” said Caggiula.
Strome and Khaira were quite strong on the PK in the final 30 games, and at this point Caggiula will likely be the sixth or seventh forward on the penalty kill. If, or when, he does get on the PK, he will have to show he’s learned to make better reads if he wants more PK time.
Realistically, I could see him getting more PP time instead of more PK time.
The Oiler’s PP struggled mightily in the final 60 games last season, clicking along at a woeful 11.5%. You don’t have to have your best 5×5 players on one unit to be successful, and while Caggiula is much smaller than Milan Lucic, he showed better finish in tight on the PP last season. Being a good net front presence isn’t just about size. It is about timing as well. Knowing when to get in the goalie’s line of vision, especially on a point shot, can be crucial for a powerplay’s success. Craig Smith and Colton Sissons do this very well in Nashville. It is something Caggiula should try to master.
Caggiula had three PP goals in 65 minutes this season. Milan Lucic had three in 174 minutes, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had four in 121 minutes, McDavid had five in 243 minutes and Leon Draisaitl had six in 220. Caggiula is good at retrieving pucks, he has quickness to pressure the D-men and he has a decent shot. He and Jesse Puljujarvi should both get more minutes on the PP this season, at different positions. Puljujarvi is more of an outside shooter, while Caggiula is better suited as a net-front presence or in the a low/side bumper position.
FIND A HOME..
Every player would like to carve out a spot in the lineup. The elite players often find their groove in the top-six right away, but many players will move around before finding some continuity.
The Oilers had ten forwards who played 700+ EV minutes last season. Of those ten, Caggiula only had one linemate whom he played more than 200 minutes with, and that was 206 with Ryan Strome. Caggiula is hoping he can find a more regular spot next year.
“Finding a home and finding a consistent spot in the lineup allows you to play more consistent, and having consistent linemates allows you to play a bit better. I’d like to find a home in the lineup and find some consistency in that. I think that will go a long way in helping my overall game,” he said.
Here are the ten Oilers forwards who played over 700 EV minutes.
McDavid (1,434 minutes). He played 200+ minutes with five forwards: the most with Patrick Maroon (523), Draisaitl (498), Lucic (419), Puljujarvi (256) and Nugent-Hopkins (207). I expect him and RNH to play a lot together next season.
Draisaitl (1,207 minutes). He played 200+ minutes with three forwards: McDavid (498), Maroon (334) and Lucic (278). I believe it is imperative the Oilers find a RW to play with Draisaitl.
Lucic (1,132 minutes). He played 200+ min with five different forwards: Puljujarvi (465), McDavid (419), RNH (314), Draisaitl (278) and Strome (216). Captain Obvious says he must be better next season, and he likely starts with Draisaitl. But he will need to produce to stay there.
Strome (1,026 minutes). Four linemates over 200 minutes: Jujhar Khaira (263), Puljujarvi (237), Lucic (216) and Caggiula (206). Strome looked for comfortable in the 3C slot in the second half of the season.
Nugent-Hopkins (899 minutes). He had three linemates over 200 minutes: Lucic (314), Maroon (223) and McDavid (207). He will be a fixture on McDavid’s LW this season.
Maroon (872 minutes). With three forwards over 200 minutes: McDavid (523), Draisaitl (334) and RNH (223). He was traded to New Jersey at the deadline and I don’t expect he re-signs in Edmonton.
Puljujarvi (820 minutes). He had three forwards over 200 minutes. Lucic (465), McDavid (256) and Strome (237). Puljujarvi has a lot of room, and time, to develop. I think he comes to camp slotted on Strome’s wing, but he will also be competing for one of the top-two RW spots. I expect he will be stronger and more in control of his large frame, and he could have a normal, slow progression or he possibly could take a big jump and be around the 20-goal mark this season. I believe when he is 22 he is going to be a force, but the Oilers and fans will need to be patient with his development over the next two seasons.
Caggiula (793 minutes). He played with only one forward for 200+ minutes: Strome (206). I’ve read some suggest he is “not and NHL player”, which is laughable considering he scored 13 goals last season, and some believe he is only a fourth liner. If he is a fourth liner, then they have a lot of depth on left wing. I see him battling for the 3LW to start the season.
Khaira (749 minutes). Had one linemate for over 200+ minutes: Strome (263). Khaira likes playing centre more, but he had more production as a left winger. I like his size down the middle and he showed well as a penalty killer. I could see him starting the season as the 4C, but could also see him getting a lot of PK time and maybe some time on the second PP unit.
Kassian (747 minutes). Had one linemate over 200+minutes: Mark Letestu (396). Kassian, like most Oilers, wasn’t as assertive or consistent in 2018 as he was in 2017. He and Khaira could be a strong base for a fourth line, two big bodies who can skate and chip in some offence.
Caggiula is still very young in his career, but this upcoming season is vital for him as he tries to secure his place in the lineup. He is confident he can bring more.
“I think scoring 13 (goals) is a good step. I had seven year last year and basically doubled it this year. Hopefully I can get close to the 20 goal range. I think I’m capable of doing it. With the amount of chances I had this year I think I’m capable of it. The biggest thing is being confident in my abilities and not dwelling on bad things if I miss a chance. There was a few times where I let things get to me and get a little too critical of myself and that causes me to not play how I normally would. I’d like to take another step, in my overall game and get closer to being a 20-goal scorer,” said Caggiula.
Scoring 20 goals is not easy, and that is a lofty goal for him. If he can be in the 15-17 range that would be a great season in my eyes, but Caggiula believes he can do more than he has so far.
He is currently an RFA, but I expect the Oilers to qualify him, if they don’t reach an agreement before the QO deadline in late June. His new deal will likely be in the $900,000 to $1 million range. Even if he only scores 13 goals, but improves on the PK, he will be a good value contract.
Last year, 218 forwards in the NHL scored 13 or more goals. That is seven forwards per team. Caggiula isn’t a first line player, and might never be one, but instead of focusing on what he didn’t do with McDavid, I think the focus should be on his overall production. Scoring goals is still a very important stat in hockey. They impact the game directly more than WOWY, CF%, goal share or many other stats.
Caggiula has played 1,413 5×5 minutes in the NHL in two seasons. He has played 213 5×5 minutes with McDavid. So a grand total of 15% of his 5×5 time was with McDavid, yet people keep repeating his numbers with McDavid. It makes no sense to me. McDavid has played 2,654 5×5 minutes the past two seasons and he’s played 8% of those minutes (213) with Caggiula. Stop suggesting Caggiula plays a lot with McDavid. It is asininely incorrect.
Caggiula needs to improve and become more consistent, but 13 goals from a complementary forward is solid production in today’s NHL.