Could Drake Caggiula Return To Edmonton?

Drake Caggiula, lexander Radulov

One thing an observer of the Edmonton Oilers likely has picked up on over the years is that the team likes to telegraph future moves. Regardless of who the General Manager is, local and sometimes national media will start planting the seeds of a future move days or weeks in advance. Sometimes, like with Tyson Barrie, the seeds will be planted years in advance.

That’s why it is noteworthy that the name Drake Caggiula is hitting the airwaves in Edmonton. Caggiula signed with the Oilers as an undrafted free agent in the spring of 2016, and made the NHL roster a few months later to open the 2016-17 season. He played parts of three seasons in Edmonton before former GM Peter Chiarelli traded him to Chicago for defenseman Brandon Manning.

Now, Caggiula finds himself on the free agent market after a season and a half in the Windy City. Still unsigned almost two weeks into the free agent period, Caggiula is likely to be a low-risk signing for any team.

Will that team be Edmonton? In addition to the recent media push, Caggiula is good friends with captain Connor McDavid.

Bob Stauffer of 630 CHED’s ‘Oilers Now’ program mentioned the possibility of Drake Caggiula signing earlier this week, while veteran writer Jim Matheson speculated about it on Wednesday morning via Twitter.

It’s clear McDavid and the Oilers room enjoyed having Caggiula around, but does that make it a good idea to bring him back? Let’s have a look.

The Numbers:

Caggiula suited up in 40 games for the Blackhawks this past season, scoring 15 points (9 g, 6 a) while averaging 11:49 per game. He posted a Corsi For percentage of 48.9%, which was -.2 relative to his teammates. Eight of Caggiula’s nine goals on the season came at even strength, while he threw 81 hits and had 19 takeaways on the season.

Caggiula finished the season with an xGF% of 48.38%, the second best mark of his young career (2017-18, 49.83%). When on the ice, however, the Blackhawks failed to live up to that expectation. Chicago was outscored 27-22 with Caggiula on the ice at five-on-five, getting just 44.90% of the goals scored.

In terms of chances, the Blackhawks got 48.50% of the scoring chances while Caggiula was on the ice, and 50.56% of the high-danger scoring chances. Both numbers, on a team with one of the worst defenses in hockey, are respectable.

Caggiula missed time with a concussion last season, which kept him out from November 10th until January 9th. He also missed time with a hand injury just before the NHL’s regular season was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Caggiula was suspended one game during the Stanley Cup Qualifying Round against the Oilers for his illegal check in Game 1 on Tyler Ennis.

Caggiula didn’t have the best 2019-20 season, mostly due to injury, but he was a good player during the 2018-19 season. He started the year in Edmonton, playing in 29 games and collecting eleven points (7 g, 4 a). After his trade to Chicago, Caggiula appeared in 26 games and scored twelve points (5 g, 7 a). In all, he scored 23 points (12 g, 11 a) in 55 games. Eye-popping numbers? No, but respectable.

He was also solid possession wise, posting a 49.5% CF% in Edmonton (.6 rel) and a 49.6% mark in Chicago (1.8 rel) during the 2018-19 season.

(Stats via hockey-reference and Natural Stat Trick)

Where Does Caggiula Fit?

This is the big question. Caggiula isn’t some top-six forward who will immediately improve the top-end of the roster. Caggiula is a fine NHL player who adds some speed and grit, but he’s not a difference maker. He’s just another depth piece. That’s fine, but the Oilers have the bottom of the roster covered.

Yes, Caggiula is a better option that Patrick Russell, Jujhar Khaira and likely Joakim Nygard. Those three are under contract, however. Is there even room for Caggiula?

Some have mentioned potentially playing Caggiula on the wing with Connor McDavid. Sure, they are friends, but is there a fit there for the two of them? If Zack Kassian is going to play on the right wing, ideally the left winger on McDavid’s line is more of a two-way player. Caggiula is not that.

It would be a nice story for Caggiula to come back to Edmonton. I believe he is a decent bet for a bottom-six role. The issue is, Edmonton doesn’t really have room for that kind of player. Here is what their depth chart looks like today.

Tyler Ennis – Connor McDavid – Zack Kassian
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Kailer Yamamoto
James Neal – Kyle Turris – Jesse Puljujarvi
Jujhar Khaira – Gaetan Haas – Alex Chiasson
Joakim Nygard, Patrick Russell

The logical way to fit Caggiula, or any other free agent forward, would be to trade Khaira. Is there a market for him? The Boston Bruins are looking to add some grit to their lineup, and recently lost fourth line winger and steady PK’er Joakim Nordstrom to the Calgary Flames. Perhaps there is a fit there.

In that case, Neal could shift to the fourth line with Chiasson and Haas. He played his best at five-on-five last season with the veteran right winger. Caggiula then could slide onto the wing with Turris and Puljujarvi.

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