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Caggiula's consistency on the uptick

Oilers rookie Drake Caggiula has pieced together a few good games and has earned praise from his coach

by Paul Gazzola /

EDMONTON, AB - Nestled in the middle of the third line, winged by Benoit Pouliot and fellow rookie Jesse Puljujärvi, Drake Caggiula is finding consistency.

Head Coach Todd McLellan had been praising the play of the University of North Dakota alumnus for a few days and his words were validated Saturday night when Caggiula ripped a one-timer from the Vancouver Canucks kitchen through keeper Jacob Markstrom. He put seven shots on net New Year's Eve, finally capitalizing on one of them.

The strike was one of the many positive contributions the centreman has been providing for his club of late. The 22-year-old has been that dependable third line centre, capable of attending to both sides of the ice that the Oilers require, since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl merge on the second line.

"We need a third-line centre that can play and be trusted and Drake's been that guy, I think, the past two games," said McLellan. "He's done a real good job."

The centreman has two goals and four assists in 20 matches as a pro, but he's chipped in many ways. He can use his speed to beat out icings, his body to intimidate defenders, and not to be forgotten is his blistering shot from the top of the key on the man-advantage.

But of course, the transition to NHL hockey is difficult. Coming from college is tough because players have to acclimatize to a much longer and busier pro calendar.

"It's definitely a huge adjustment," said Caggiula, who in North Dakota would endure two games and two travel days a week.

Add in an early injury that pumped the brakes on the beginning of his pro career, and you have Caggiula's consistency quandary.

"Part of it is adjusting to the League," said McLellan. "He's a smaller man that's played the college game and not having been able to catch and maintain his pace early in the season, it made it hard for him to come back. So, every extra stride he took, took a little more out of him to catch up to the team's pace. I think the Christmas break was good."

Even Caggiula admitted so much.

"I think the Christmas break was much needed, not just physically but mentally," he said. "It's kind of a draining season and something that I'm not used to, but something I'm going to have to make an adjustment to in trying to find ways to keep my mind fresh and my body fresh."

But a skater's performance runs in waves of hot and cold routinely. When Caggiula's game was taking a dip, he knew it

"I wasn't playing up to my standards or not even the coaching staff's standards. That kind of showed through ice time."

So, as he continues to tune the regularity of his play, having his coach's praise helps in the assignment.

"Anytime you hear positive encouragement or positive feedback from coaching staff or teammates or whoever it may be, it's always a confidence boost to yourself," Caggiula said. "But at the same time you obviously know your own game."

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