Life has been pretty crazy for Drake Cagguila of late. As a matter of fact, since becoming a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle of the 2018-19 season, it’s been a roller coaster for the gritty forward. He was traded to the team in December of 2018, where he dealt with both injuries and a fair amount of success in the second half of that season and through 40 games of the 2019-20 campaign. But these past few months have brought even more life changes and uncertainty, both good and bad. Let’s explore what Caggiula has been dealing with.
In mid-November of 2019, Caggiula was sidelined with his second concussion in the calendar year. According to Charlie Roumeliotis of NBC Chicago Sports, the feisty winger also missed 13 games in the 2018-19 season when he suffered a concussion on Feb. 22, 2019.
Caggiula went on the miss over eight weeks during November and December before returning on Jan. 9, 2020 against the Nashville Predators. But the good news is he was able to practice on his own while his symptoms subsided. He used that time to his advantage once he returned. Said Caggiula,
But being injured, I was able to watch a lot of individual film and find areas of the game that I can work on and improve on, and practice that for about five, six weeks. Now that I’m in those scenarios and those situations on the ice, I feel way more confident.(Source: ‘Drake Caggiula’s in-season training camp making him a better player after his concussion’, Chicago Sun-Times – 1/17/20)
The Ontario native worked on controlling and protecting the puck, as well as getting pucks on net and creating opportunities off the boards. After returning, he recorded six goals and five assists in 25 games. This compares to three goals and just one assist in his first 15 games.
“I’m not feeling passive out there,” he said. “I feel like I’m taking control and making plays.”
Caggiula Offers Versatility
What makes Caggiula so valuable is he can be utilized up and down the lineup. Head coach Jeremy Colliton has deployed him on the top line with Jonathan Toews and a handful of other wingers; namely Alex DeBrincat, Brandon Saad, Dominik Kubalik, and even the nuclear option of Patrick Kane. Caggiula’s made an impact on the top line by doing the dirty work and getting his more skilled linemates the puck. But he has enough skill and talent himself to keep up with and complement these elite players.
He’s also substituted on the second line when Kane double shifted on the top line with Toews. And of course he’s been utilized in his more natural role, as a very effective grinder and shut down player on the fourth line. Caggiula has a physical edge to his play, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves to defend his teammates.
Add this to the fact he can play center and both wing positions, and it’s easy to see why a coach would be enthused with all the lineup options he brings to the table.
On a Personal Note
During the NHL pause, Caggiula enjoyed a few positive life events outside of hockey. On May 31st, he announced on his Twitter feed that he and girlfriend Laura had gotten engaged.
May 31, 2020— Drake Caggiula (@drakecaggiula) June 1, 2020
I asked my best friend to spend forever with me and she said yes! What an incredible day! Love you Laur❤️ pic.twitter.com/fSQCnNMrkc
Then on June 7, the happy couple creatively shared they were pregnant and expecting a baby boy.
We are so excited to finally share we are happy, healthy and …..PREGNANT! We can’t wait to meet you little man 💙 you are such a blessing. Excited to watch this family grow! pic.twitter.com/iF1FCmO8qJ— Drake Caggiula (@drakecaggiula) June 7, 2020
It goes without saying when Caggiula turned 26 years old on June 20, he had a lot to be happy about. As he recently told Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, “With the world of negative news, I’ve had a lot of positive news in my circle.” (Source: ‘Blackhawks’ Drake Caggiula juggles playoff excitement, free-agent uncertainty’, The AthleticCHI – 6/26/20)
One more thing to be happy about is a return to hockey. The Blackhawks are set to meet the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round on Aug. 1. Caggiula broke his hand on Mar. 8 while fighting St. Louis Blues’ Vince Dunn, but the pause has given that injury time to heal. The depth winger is healthy and ready to play. Sure, the qualifying round isn’t technically the official playoffs, but Caggiula and his teammates will take it considering they were a longshot to make the playoffs in the first place.
It serves as extra motivation the 26-year-old will be facing his former team. While undrafted, Caggiula signed a two-year entry-level deal with the Oilers in May of 2016. He spent the following two and a half seasons with them before joining the Blackhawks. As a matter of fact, he boasts 13 playoffs games with the Oilers in the 2016-17 season. He and his team won the first round in six games against the San Jose Sharks, but lost in the second round to the Anaheim Ducks. It was a hard fought series that went the full seven games. Caggiula contributed three goals throughout their run.
The physicality always gets ramped up in the playoffs, and Caggiula’s game lends itself towards this. Perhaps he can go on a run with the Blackhawks that exceeds 13 games and three goals. Regardless, he should be a huge asset to the team.
Free Agency Looms
One final stressor for Caggiula is he’s a restricted free agent at the end of this season, whenever that may eventually be. He was hoping to re-sign with the Blackhawks, but the salary cap looks to be remaining flat due to the pandemic.
This could definitely put a wrench in those hopes. Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman will also be trying to sign fellow free agents Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Slater Koekkoek, and Corey Crawford. Even before the cap remained the same, that would be a difficult feat.
The new family man will have to live with the uncertainty of where he might play, and live, in the near future. He admitted it takes it’s toll.
There’s a lot of uncertainty right now to begin with, then you add free agency and it’s very, very difficult. Obviously, guys haven’t been properly skating or training for the last 100 days or so. So you’re coming back to the season like, ‘I’ve got to make sure I don’t get hurt,’ because you don’t want to head into the free-agent market injured. There’s a lot of stuff going on, and you run all these things through your mind, and it’s pretty stressful. At this point, I’m just trying to get back to what I would consider my normal life, and that’s skating and playing hockey.
I’d say Caggiula speaks for all of us right now. We all want our normal life back. For him it’s playing hockey, and for us it’s watching hockey. Let’s hope we can witness Caggiula add some more “good” to one hell of a year.