Just three games into his Blackhawks career, Drake Caggiula is already settling into his new surroundings. The transition to a different city and new team can often be intimidating, and it's a process that takes time. However, if you ask Caggiula, he's doing just fine.
"I feel a lot more comfortable right now than I did before," he said after practice on Thursday. "I think just the calmness of the organization and I feel like I have a comfortability with them just going back to my college days."
Chicago acquired Caggiula via trade from the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 29, a few years after trying to sign him as a college free agent.
"The [Blackhawks] tried really hard to recruit me here and when they called me they reiterated over and over how they traded for me because of the player I am and they don't want to change who I am as a player," said Caggiula. "I think I was maybe walking on eggshells trying to please certain people and all that certain stuff. Now I'm forgetting all about that and just playing hockey again. I got a fresh start here in a new organization and I'm able to just come in with a clear mind and play hockey without having to think. That's making it a lot easier for me."
Caggiula has felt welcomed in Chicago's locker room since five minutes after the trade from Edmonton was finalized and Blackhawks veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook sent him a text.
"That goes a long way with an older guy reaching out to you right away," he said. "I got the younger guys here like [Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini], who were traded earlier, and they can help me do the same thing. But there are also guys closer to my age who you can relate to.
Caggiula listed name after name of Blackhawks players who have either made him feel welcome or have their own experiences he can lean on.
"My first day here I was kind of nervous that I wasn't going to be able to talk to anybody because I didn't know anyone, but I walked in and they made me feel right at home," he said. "It's a great group of guys in here and it definitely makes it a lot easier when you can feel comfortable right away."
On the ice, Caggiula has been focused on playing a simple game, which has helped him transition to Chicago's style. While the goals and points haven't come, it's still early on and he's building this thing from the ground up - with an emphasis on things like playing physical, killing penalties and providing energy.
"You just want to play a good baseline game," Caggiula explained. "Do the simple things right, get your feet wet and then you start to feel comfortable in your own skin and that sort of stuff. I think I've been doing a pretty good job of that lately, playing a hard-nosed game, playing a simple game. I've been getting chances. They haven't been going in, but if you're doing the right things over and over again then those will start to click for you. I just want to make sure I'm doing the right things away from the puck and with the puck. Eventually, you can expand your game from there."
It's also helped Caggiula that the Blackhawks coaching staff has been patient when it comes to just how much they've put on their new forward's plate.
"Honestly, they haven't really been throwing too much at me," he said. "The coaching staff just wants me to play my game. The biggest thing is just not thinking too much. Obviously, as time goes on you're going to be taking in more information but at training camp they're throwing everything at you. You've got your PP, PK, forecheck, backcheck, your d-zone coverage, o-zone stuff, faceoffs, and all that sort of stuff in the mix. It can be overwhelming, especially to new people in the organization. For some guys, it's a refresher. Since I've gotten here I've sat down with coach for five minutes to go over basic details and the rest of it he's said will come as time goes on. It's been a lot easier on my mind doing that."
Caggiula, who had seven goals in 29 games this season with the Oilers, believes offensive production will come naturally with the building blocks he has put in place - and the Blackhawks organization feels the same.
"I think each game he's been giving us something," said Head Coach Jeremy Colliton. "Energy and he's got a really high compete level. When he was playing with [Chris] Kunitz and [Marcus] Kruger in Pittsburgh, they were a big reason we won the game. They scored a goal for us, a lot of energy and gave us some important shifts. Then last night with [David Kampf's] line there, I thought they were excellent. They created a lot, didn't go in the net but I'm not worried about the production. I think that will come because he wins a lot of battles and makes a lot of little plays that allow his line to have the puck. That will come."
Caggiula has four shots and seven hits through three games and when he is on the ice at even strength, the Blackhawks are controlling 53.3% of the shot attempts. He logged 13:39 of ice time on Wednesday night against Nashville, higher than his previous games, which hovered around 11 minutes. And in that third outing, partnered with Kampf and Brandon Saad, Caggiula liked the mix of his new partners on the third line.
"I thought we played well," Caggiula said. "We played some heavy minutes against their top line. I thought we've got the right personnel there that we can be a hard line to play against and be a good checking line, but at the same time we have the speed and skill to try and produce offensively as well, especially against those other top lines who may not necessarily want to play as much defense. I think we had a pretty good mix and had a few early chances. I think we did a pretty good job in the d-zone as well."
But Caggiula sees a path to playing even more minutes and contributing on offense, but it all goes back to building from the bottom up. Start simple, be effective, produce, and then get rewarded.
"Coach has talked to me about playing my game," he said. "The more I play my game, the better the chances are I can move up and get more minutes and that stuff. Ultimately, that's the goal. You want to play as much as you can. By doing that, you've got to play your own game and make sure you're being effective. I think there is an opportunity to move up. I just want to make sure that I'm playing my game and I'm doing the best I can to help this team win. If that encourages more ice time then that's a bonus, but you have to just make sure you're doing whatever it takes to win."