One of Peter Chiarelli’s more famous signings was Drake Caggiula who was signed as an undrafted college free agent from North Dakota in the spring of 2016. The signing came with much fan-fare as Caggiula was coming off a massive season in North Dakota where he put up 25 goals and 51 points in 39 games which led to an NHL Equivalency of 44 points. At the time of the signing, Caggiula bolted right to the top of the Oilers’ prospect rankings.
The fact that Caggiula, now with 2 full seasons in the NHL, is listed at number 14 shows exactly how far his stock has fallen in those two years as well as the depth of young talent that has been accumulated by Chiarelli during that time.
Scouting reports generally spoke about Caggiula’s speed and skill as well as his aggressiveness and tenacity and even his two-way game. One quote from Flyers GM Ron Hextall provided:
“He’s got speed, he plays hard, he has a lot of good attributes. He’s got a shot at being a top six (player) based on his ability. He’s not the biggest player, but he plays hard.”.
Quite frankly, Caggiula has failed to live up to expectations since he was signed and it is becoming increasingly apparent that his huge offensive numbers at North Dakota were largely a function of playing on a line with Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz, both previous first-round draft picks (Schmaltz by the Hawks in 2014 and Boeser, unfortunately, by the Canucks in 2015).
As an aside, I would remiss if I didn’t state that I am often very wary of NHL Equivalency ratings as they don’t take into account, not only teammates and linemates but, more importantly, they don’t adjust for age. I think it’s important to always note the age of the player when looking at equivalency stats and ratings. Caggiula was 22 years old when he signed and his NHL Equivalency was largely a function of being a more “mature” prospect.
While Caggiula did score 13 goals this past season, he only produced 20 points and produced at a points/60 rate of a meager 1.16 along with a poor CF% of 47.26% and a CF Rel of – 3.29 (all numbers at 5 on 5). Just as shockingly, Caggiula’s GF% was under 40% and his GF Rel was an egregious -12.55. The Oilers were getting caved when he was on the ice as compared to when he was not.
Additionally, Caggiula didn’t produce these numbers wasting away on the 4th line as he played 206 minutes with Ryan Strome (a good possession and goal share player), 183 minutes with Draisaitl and 146 minutes with McDavid while playing only 89 minutes with Letestu (all number at 5 on 5).
Caggiula has consistently been given opportunities up the lineup and, although he did score 13 goals last year, he has been a drag on essentially every talented player he plays with. For example, in 146 5 on 5 minutes with McDavid last season, the pair had a CF% of 39.5% and a GF% of 45.45% whereas McDavid had a CF% of 54.05% and a GF% of 59.17% without Caggiula. There are very few players that have the ability to turn McDavid in to a negative possession and goal share player and Caggiula has shown to be one of them.
Unfortunately, Caggiula has this type of drag on many Oiler forwards.
Notwithstanding the drag Caggiula has proven to have on offensive linemates, as we see from the time on ice data, Caggiula consistently has received chances up the lineup. In my opinion, the coaching staff sees his decent goal production and likes his effort level and tenacity and rewards that style of play with offensive minutes. At the end of the day, this cannot continue.
The team struggles to saw off the opposition with McDavid off the ice making it imperative to crush the opposition when McDavid is on the ice. McDavid does indeed crush the competition with pretty much every linemate other than Drake Caggiula.
The Oilers need to improve when McDavid is off the ice and, of course, that responsibility will largely be allocated to Draisaitl’s line. Its fairly well established that, while Draisaitl had a solid to the very good offensive season away from McDavid, he did end up losing the goal share battle. A bit of digging shows that, without Caggiula, Draisaitl had positive possession metrics and 50% of the goal share. Unfortunately, in 183 minutes with Caggiula, the CF% falls to under 50% and the goal share to 43.75%.
I know, this piece has been extremely negative on Caggiula and probably a bit unfair to him. I do believe that Caggiula can be an effective player for the Oilers in the proper role. I think he can be an effective 4th line energy player that can chip in the odd goal and be spotted up to the 3rd line when needed. Caggiula is a good skater, can be a tenacious forechecker and is willing to engage physically. These skills are valuable in a 4th line role and I believe if Caggiula is slotted properly in the lineup, and not asked to play in the top 6, he can provide value for the Oilers.
Additionally, I do think that Caggiula’s usage by the coaching staff throughout his pro career has not done him any favors. Taking aside that Caggiula likely could have benefited from starting his pro career in the AHL, in his rookie pro season, he was injured in training camp and missed the first 6 weeks, or so, of the season. When he came back from injury, Caggiula, a natural winger, was asked by the coaching staff to start his pro career, coming off a significant injury, as the 3rd line center in the NHL. This remains one of the most mind-boggling decisions McLellan has made. Of course, given he was set up to fail, Caggiula did indeed fail in that role.
Throughout the rest of his two seasons as an Oiler, Caggiula has been used all over the lineup including material time on the skill lines with the skill centers. What has become increasingly clear as his career has progressed is that Caggiula is not a top 6 forward, at least not at this point of his career, and, while I’m sure Caggiula is grateful for the opportunities, being used in a top 6 role has set Caggiula up to fail. I believe if the coaching staff allows Caggiula to play a fourth-line energy role, night in and night out, and work on his 3-zone game to improve his play away from the puck, he could forge a career in the NHL.
Managers covet offense and Caggiula’s 13 goals and tenacity got him awarded a 2-year contract at a cap hit of $1.5M. The coaching staff likes the player, that is proven by his usage over his first two years as a pro, and he is going to be on the roster and in the lineup this coming year (to the disappointment of many). I would suggest that, if used properly, I think he can be a positive contributor. He has two years to work on the defensive side of his game and prove he can benefit the team in a bottom six energy role.