While it may not have been the road that either Drake Caggiula or the Edmonton Oilers had envisioned for the 22-year old to take en route to the NHL, his debut against the Dallas Stars could not have gone much better — and it was Hockey Night in Canada to boot.
On a night in which Connor McDavid scored the first of what will surely be many hat-tricks over the course of his career, it was the performance of the Pickering, Ontario native that has much of Oilers Nation excited for what the immediate future might hold.
Caggiula leads Oilers out and takes lap solo…
— Jack Michaels (@EdmontonJack) November 19, 2016
Make no mistake, the fact No. 97 ended his personal ten-game goalless drought in helping lead his club to a much-needed 5-2 victory over the Stars on Saturday night, both were bound to happen. Yes, the Oilers had been mired in five-game losing skid and winners of just two of their previous ten but it was only matter of time before things would start bouncing their way. In fact, three of Edmonton’s five goals on the night came courtesy of some good old puck-luck and some would suggest it was long overdue.
Caggiula Has Something to Prove
While the Oilers may have been overdue for some breaks, that wasn’t necessarily the case when it came to Caggiula. After agreeing to a two-year deal with the Oilers over the summer, the youngster was among the team’s best players during training camp and seemed destined to start the year with the big club. Unfortunately, a hip injury forced him to start the season on the IR and a re-aggravation of that same injury left him on the sideline longer than first expected.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) May 7, 2016
It was a tough break for both the player and club, as Todd McLellan made it abundantly clear throughout training camp that Caggiula was one of the frontrunners to start the season in Edmonton as his third line centre. While most pundits and fans had their hearts set on the Oilers starting the year with the trio of McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down the middle of the rink, the head coach had different intentions and who could blame him. That said, the injury kept it from happening at the time but that will likely soon change.
— Edmonton Oilers (@EdmontonOilers) November 19, 2016
The fact Caggiula was thrown straight into the fire as soon as he was deemed ready-to-go, despite having not played in nearly two months, tells us McLellan badly wanted to add his smarts, speed and tenacity to the lineup. Give him credit — he did not force-feed third line minutes to the kid off the bat but did use him in all situations in allowing him to get his feet wet. While the youngster’s failed clearing attempt cost the Oilers a goal in the second, he teamed with Tyler Pitlick to cash in on a 2-on-1 midway through the first to give Edmonton a two-goal cushion.
Quite the Debut for No. 36
By the end of the night, Caggiula not only had his first NHL point but also just under 13 minutes of ice-time under his belt, with nearly four of those minutes coming via special teams. Not too shabby of a start, and with the Oilers struggling to create secondary offence with any kind of consistency, chances are quite good we will see Draisaitl shift to the wing on a more permanent basis once the former University of North Dakota standout finds his legs.
And that's why Caggiula is in the lineup. Hendricks w a smart play to start it, Pitlick great hand-eye to finish. Wow.
— Kurt Leavins (@KurtLeavins) November 20, 2016
Using Caggiula as the third line centre with some combination of Benoit Pouliot, Anton Slepyshev and potentially one of Milan Lucic, Patrick Maroon or Jesse Puljujarvi, gives this coaching staff its first real opportunity at loading up the top two lines. By no means does it guarantee success but the chances of Edmonton creating offence on a nightly basis is far more likely with a mix consisting of Draisaitl, Jordan Eberle, McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins and two of the aforementioned trio of Lucic, Maroon and Puljujarvi seeing time with one another on a consistent basis.
Free agent Drake Caggiula (25-26-51/39 GP) National Champion with North Dakota in Philadelphia tonight, will visit Edmonton next week
— Bob Stauffer (@Bob_Stauffer) April 19, 2016
None of that would be possible without a capable body handling the responsibility that comes with being the third centre on the depth chart. Mark Letestu has proven more effective when used in a fourth-line role, which means in order for this set-up to have any shot of working, Drake Caggiula is going to be a key piece in how the next four-plus months ultimately play out for the Edmonton Oilers…and you get the sense this kid is looking forward to the challenge.
Rob Soria is the Author of Connor McDavid: Hockey’s Next Great One. He has chronicled the Orange and Blue since creating his Oil Drop blog in 2011 and has also had his writings featured over at HometownHockey.ca and Vavel USA, where he has covered the NHL, MLB and ATP Tour. Rob was born, raised and still resides in Edmonton, Alberta and can be reached via twitter @Oil_Drop.