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Caggiula out to prove himself

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

Does Drake Caggiula have a chip on his shoulder? Yeah, you could say that.

Undersized, undrafted, underdog. Caggiula has been given labels, but hasn’t let them define him. Except, perhaps, the latter — underdog. That’s a label he’s embraced, and it’s no surprise to him, or anyone who knows him, that he went from overlooked to coveted.

“Any time you don’t get drafted it kind of leaves you feeling a little bitter about it,” said Caggiula. “At the same time, it’s kind of a blessing in disguise. It forced me to work a little harder. There’s nothing wrong with being a bit of an underdog and making sure you can push your way to the top and keep pushing and pushing.”

Photo by Getty Images

That bulldog tenacity, grit and competitive fire made him a staple of the University of North Dakota hockey program. It helped him excel against NCAA competition, which included players drafted over himself.

“I absolutely play with a little chip on my shoulder to prove to everyone that I’m capable of doing it,” he said. “I play like that every single game because I’m always out there trying to prove something.”

Caggiula has been watched by NHL scouts for some time now, but went back to school for his senior season in hopes of capturing a national title. Not only did he achieve those goals, but a 25-goal, 51-point campaign (in just 39 games) put him on nearly every team’s radar and began a courting process. In the end, Caggiula says he met with eight to 10 organizations before choosing Edmonton as his next destination.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind,” Caggiula says of the last few weeks. “You’re taking in a lot of information from a lot of different people… It’s kind of a crazy time in your life, but it’s exciting. You obviously work hard to get where you are and it’s an exciting time for myself and my family. Ultimately, I chose Edmonton. I felt most comfortable there with everything they had to offer.”

Caggiula says he was sold on Edmonton because of their coaching staff, led by Todd McLellan, and their general manager, Peter Chiarelli. But his decision rested largely on where he felt he’d fit in the most as a player.

“It’s a young team with a lot of talented players,” Caggiula said. “They’re on the upswing here and I hope I can be a part of that. I think anytime you can play with a young core and grow with them it’s a huge benefit for yourself. Edmonton is a hockey town. It’s all they care about there and I like that. It’s kind of the same in North Dakota. I think it’s just a special time for the organization and I hope I can be a part of it.”

The Oilers gave Caggiula their pitch, and gave him a tour of their new home, Rogers Place, which is under construction in the downtown core.

Photo by Getty Images

“It’s obviously going to be a fantastic building and all the stuff going around the building is going to be an incredible thing,” said Caggiula. “For the most part, it’s just a hockey decision and where you feel most comfortable and how you see yourself fitting into the organization and all that. For the most part, this is a hockey city and the new rink and all the stuff that comes with it is just an added bonus.”

Caggiula says he also leaned on now fellow Oilers prospect and former UND teammate Dillon Simpson for advice and information. All the pieces fell into place and Caggiula agreed to a two-year entry level contract with the team.

So, what is Edmonton getting?

We’ve established that Caggiula is not likely to need much outside motivation. Smart, skilled, fast and there’s an edge there that suggests he won’t be outcompeted.

“A gritty player that likes to play with a lot of speed, a lot of pace,” Caggiula said. “I might be on the smaller end of the height scale, but I like to try and play big. I try to make plays offensively and pretty much do whatever I have to do to help the team win. If I have to play a skilled game I’ll try to do that and if I have to play a little grittier game I can do that as well.”

At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Caggiula’s size was largely the reason for his undrafted status. It’s obviously not a new revelation. Lack of height has been something the Pickering, ON native has dealt with his entire hockey career. Instead of letting it define him, he worked his way around it.

“Just growing up I was never the biggest guy.” he said. “Playing hockey, kids hit puberty a lot faster than I did so I had to make sure I competed. I had to earn everything I got. It’s the same thing off the ice. My dad always talked about earning everything and going out and getting it. Being a smaller guy, it’s sometimes a little harder. But I guess it’s how much heart you play with is a big determining factor in who comes out on top a lot of the time.”

Caggiula models his game after Boston's Brad Marchand and Minnesota’s Zach Parise. Smaller players “who work hard,” he says.

Caggiula speaks glowingly of North Dakota’s hand in developing him as a professional. He believes he’s ready to jump right into the fray. And if you listen to how he speaks, you’d believe him.

“Personal goals are to make the Edmonton Oilers,” Caggiula said. “That’s what you dream about as a kid, to play in the National Hockey League. I have set myself up for an opportunity. Obviously, there’s no promised made or nothing handed to you. You have to go out and try and earn it. I’ll go home, have a big summer, try to get as ready as I can and go into camp and just work. Hopefully I can make the team. If not, I’ll play in the American League, build my game and hopefully be ready.”

Caggiula eyes making an impact on the Oilers, either in 2016-17 or, most assuredly, beyond. Would you bet against him?

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