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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Year in Review: Drake Caggiula didn’t take the step forward the Oilers hoped

This is one part of a player-by-player Year in Review series we’ll be doing over the next couple months as we look back on the 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers season. 

2017-18 Edmonton Oilers No. 91: Drake Caggiula

GP: 67 – G: 13, A: 7, PTS: 20

Part of the reason Peter Chiarelli was comfortable trading away Jordan Eberle was the internal options that could potentially replace him. Drake Caggiula, Anton Slepyshev, and Zack Kassian all scored more in the playoffs than Eberle did, and it seemed like a fair bet to assume that, in the aggregate, they could replace his production at a much cheaper cost.

Caggiula was probably the player with the highest expectations of the aforementioned three.

He entered free agency in 2016 after a dream season with the University North Dakota. Caggiula, along with teammates Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, and Nick Schmaltz, won the NCAA Championship. Caggiula himself won the NCAA Tournament Championship MVP and, as a result, became one of the most sought-after college free agents on the market that summer.

The Oilers inked him to a two-year entry-level deal. He didn’t make his debut until a few weeks into the season due to an injury, and when he did crack the lineup, he did so as a centre, which isn’t his natural position. The team had a need for a third centre and the rookie did an admirable job in the role given the circumstances that were stacked against him. Once the Oilers acquired David Desharnais at the trade deadline to be the bottom-six pivot they needed, Caggiula was able to slide into his natural position as a winger.

Like I said, a thoroughly solid showing in the playoffs as a middle-six winger raised expectations for Caggiula heading into his sophomore season. Unfortunately for the Oilers, Caggiula wasn’t able to live up to those expectations.

It was extremely lofty to expect a second-year, undrafted free agent to replace the production of a former All-Star like Eberle. Eberle went on to finish 16th in the NHL in on-ice even strength goals per 60 minutes while Caggiula finished 250th. Another damning thing about Caggiula is that, among Oilers forwards who played at least 100 minutes at even strength, he ranked second-last in shot attempt differential and third-last in goal differential. So, to put it bluntly, the Oilers got pounded with Caggiula on the ice.

Still, he’s only 24 years old with 127 games of NHL experience. Another thing to consider about Caggiula is how he’s moved around the lineup without a real, consistent role on the team. He spent the majority of his rookie season without a life jacket on in the deep end of the pool, and then, in his sophomore year, he bounced all over the lineup.

By the second half of the season, I think Caggiula found a role he could thrive in alongside Ryan Strome on the team’s third line. Caggiula and Strome played 249:46 minutes together at even strength and had a 56.8 percent shot attempt differential. While their 45.0 percent goal differential wasn’t very good, the fact they outshot their opponents by so much is a positive sign.

Another thing that Caggiula did well was performing on the power play. He was eighth among Oilers forwards in power play time on ice, but, interestingly enough, he had the best scoring rate on the man advantage of anybody on the team. There’s a bit of a small sample size alert there, but it’s another positive sign about Caggiula’s game worth mentioning.

Ultimately, I think it’s fair to say that Caggiula’s 2017-18 season was a letdown. He was one of the internal options that Chiarelli banked on to take a step forward, and it didn’t happen. The question now is whether or not that’s a lack of ability or it’s just him not being used in the right kinds of situations. I think, given the fact he’s thrived in a couple different places, like on the third line with Ryan Strome and in limited power play time, there’s still reason to believe Caggiula can be a useful depth player for the Oilers.

Besides, it wasn’t that long ago Caggiula earned himself a lot of brownie points among Oilers fans for tuning up Andrew Cogliano in a playoff game: