EDMONTON -- Forward Drake Caggiula could not have scripted a better end to his NCAA hockey career.
The Edmonton Oilers prospect led the University of North Dakota to the 2016 NCAA Division 1 Men's Hockey championship in April, and was named most outstanding player at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla.
"It was a dream come true, it was a season that I'll never forget," Caggiula said. "Obviously, winning a national championship was the biggest thing for myself and my team. Anytime you can leave your team on a winning note like that, it's a pretty special feeling.
"It's a special group of guys and we had a lot of good memories, and it was a year I'll always remember."
Caggiula, 22, now looking toward a professional career, took his first steps this week at Oilers development camp in Jasper, Alberta, 215 miles west of Edmonton.
A native of Pickering, Ontario, Caggiula had 51 points (25 goals, 26 assists) in 39 games for North Dakota last season. He signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Oilers in May.
"This is a dream come true," Caggiula said. "I wanted to be a professional hockey player since I was a young kid, that's what you dream about. The National Hockey League is the biggest goal, and now that school is done, I just have to worry about focusing on hockey and I couldn't ask for anything more.
"Hockey is what I love, it's my passion and I couldn't be more excited to be a professional hockey player right now."
Caggiula brings offensive ability and grit to the Edmonton organization. He is projected to start this season with the Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate in Bakersfield, Calif.
"I think pro is a little different than college hockey," Caggiula said. "Everyone is a little bigger, faster, smarter. There is going to be an adjustment period, but at the same time, I think I'm a quick learner and I'm going to learn as quick as possible to try and get accustomed to the pro game, and hopefully, it turns out well for myself."
Caggiula (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) models his game after players such as Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins and Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens. In 162 games over four seasons at North Dakota, Caggiula had 127 points (62 goals, 65 assists) and 173 penalty minutes.
"They all play fast, they all play hard, they all play with grit, and I try to play like those three guys," Caggiula said. "Not being the biggest guy, I have to fight for every inch I get out there. Those are three guys I definitely look up to and try to model my game after."
Not selected in the NHL Draft, Caggiula was courted by a number of teams coming out of North Dakota. He elected to sign with Edmonton, believing it was the best fit.
"I felt great here, I came here on my visit and I felt something special," Caggiula said. "I texted my dad halfway through the visit and I told him that I thought I wanted to be an Oiler.
"I still had a few more visits to go after that, but I had a great visit here, I loved the coaching staff, I loved all the management, there is a young core of players here and I hope to be part of that core and kind of grow with them, and hopefully it'll work out."
During his visit to Edmonton, Caggiula was given a tour of Rogers Place, the Oilers' new downtown arena they are relocating to this season.
"That also played a role in the decision-making," Caggiula said. "Any time you can be a part of a building like that, it's going to be a special thing, and I look forward to see the grand opening for it."
The first step for Caggiula getting an opportunity to play at Rogers Place this season was taking part in development camp.
"You get to meet some of the people and it's kind of the first step for the summer," he said. "It's kind of good to get in here and see what the expectations are for fitness tests, and that kind of stuff.
"It kind of gets your feet wet, and hopefully, prepare yourself for training camp in September."