The biggest unknown for the Oilers heading into the 2017-18 season is the right wing position, which Drake Caggiula is beginning to get familiar with
EDMONTON, AB - Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan didn't mince words when he articulated the one area of mystery heading into the 2017-18 season.
"Our unknown, in my opinion, comes on the right side right now," McLellan said to a crowd of reporters in the Oilers Hall of Fame Room last Thursday. "Especially with (Anton) Slepyshev out and (Ryan) Strome coming in as a new player, we've got to see where he fits and how he gels with different linemates.
"So, the right side is the 'wildcard' position on our team right now."
In finding a resolution for the unknown, McLellan declared he would test out sophomore forward Drake Caggiula on the right side. Caggiula isn't entering the role completely blind, having played right wing in spurts during the Oilers playoff run last season.
"We're going to try him there and see how he handles that job throughout training camp and some exhibition games but those pieces are moving all the time and they still need to be sorted out," McLellan said.
Four days into Oilers Training Camp and No. 91 continues sinking his teeth into the new position. He's done so alongside Milan Lucic and Leon Draisaitl, a pair McLellan doled out together in the past.
"If there's an opening, you want to step in and try to take hold of that spot," Caggiula said Sunday after a camp scrimmage. While the utility player migrates to a new slot on a forward corps he is firmly embedded in, his outlook on camp and the new opportunity remains humbling.
"It's no different than last year; I'm still fighting for a spot in the lineup and for more opportunity," the 23-year-old, who put up seven goals and 11 assists in 60 games last season, said. "Nothing's set in stone. I have to make sure I go in there and prove that I'm capable of playing at this level and then hopefully get more opportunity because of it."
Caggiula even noted the fortuitous situation he's in, playing with incumbent veteran Lucic and last season's eighth-leading scorer Draisaitl - forwards routinely counted on to generate offence.
"Getting the opportunity that I have right now, I want to take it and run with it," he said. "Things could change tomorrow but where I am right now I'm happy and I want to make sure I stay there. I know there's a lot of things I have to do to maintain that spot but I'm looking forward to the challenge."
McLellan has been honest in his assessment of Caggiula as a right winger in camp - divulging into the quirks of the transition and adding his understanding of the change.
"I didn't think Drake was particularly strong the first day (of Oilers Training Camp); I thought his best day was today," the coach said. "He really picked it up and had a little spark to his game. It's going to take him a while to get used to playing over there. I know we had him there in the playoffs and they had some success but it's different when you're on the boards for 15 or 20 games on the opposite side."
Regardless of where he ends up, McLellan and his coaching staff are confident that if Caggiula performs characteristically, he should be able to adapt.
"He's going to have to get used to his linemates but he's got a quick release, he's a puck-hungry player - he can hound and hunt pucks down for the other two - and he seems to find the holes at the right time.
"If he's doing those types of things, we think he'll be OK over there."