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Time off benefits Caggiula

by Chris Wescott / Head Writer

Drake Caggiula is quite frank about his three-game absence from the Oilers lineup.

"It sucked."

As much as it "sucked" for Caggiula to miss those games against Pittsburgh, Montreal and Dallas in the middle of March, the time spent up in the press box watching the game helped him - perhaps more than you'd think. 

The Edmonton Oilers rookie winger has played every game since his return on March 16, and has seen an uptick in offensive production the last two games. In a two-game series against Colorado this past weekend, Caggiula tallied four points, including two goals.

"As much as it sucked, that time in the press box kind of gave me time to reevaluate how the game is played in the professional ranks," said Caggiula.

The easy answer to a player's turnaround is usually they're "confident."

Confidence is a regularly attributed reason for streaks of success in hockey, but if you really want to break down Caggiula's resurgence it has more to do with a recognition of time and space.

No, it's not some complex physics problem or something you'd read about in a science fiction novel. It's the experience and knowledge the player gained while sitting out.

The rookie missed some time at the start of the season with a hip injury so there was no easing into the speed of the NHL game for him. The University of North Dakota product jumped right in on November 19, after more than a month of rest and rehab, and then tried to transition on the fly.

"At the start of the season, when I was watching it from up above when I was injured, I hadn't played yet so it's hard to really judge 'this is what I'm used to and now this is what I'm seeing,'" said Caggiula.

With no benchmark or basis of comparison, other than some exhibition time, it was difficult to gauge the situation.

"To finally play and then sit out again kind of gives you a different perspective of how the game is."

Finally, with a toe dipped in the water early in the season, Caggiula had his standard for the speed and skill of the NHL. But with bodies flying around you on the ice and plays needing to be made decisively quick, it can be a lot to process for a rookie.

Take some time to sit in the press box, where the game seems slower, and you can really make strides - even without skates strapped to your feet.

Video: EDM@COL: Caggiula nets go-ahead goal with backhand

"You realize you do have a lot more time than you think out there," Caggiula said. "Because of that, I've been able to make more plays, knowing I have that extra half-second to hold onto the puck and make a play rather than make that quick, easy, just chip-it-out kind of play."

The realization you have more time allows you to create more space, which leads to more executed plays, leading to production and reward.

In the press box, while the time-and-space equation was being solved, Caggiula could simultaneously work on the issue of exertion.

"Rest for the young man," Oilers Head Coach Todd McLellan said. "It's a taxing season, so he had three games off in a row. There was a good rest period."

Coming from college, Caggiula's was not quite used to the grind of an NHL schedule. Add in time missed due to injury, and it's no surprise he'd need some time to settle. Now that Caggiula has returned, well-learned and well-rested, the forward is seeing some encouraging signs in his game.

"I think, once you start to make one play and it starts to work you get the confidence to make more plays and more plays," he said. "I think the last few games here, I've started to make a lot more plays and I've started to feel more comfortable holding onto the puck and making stuff happen."

Caggiula's upward trend could not come at a better time for the Oilers. With an already established top six, and a third line coming together of late, Edmonton barrels toward the regular season's end with a clicking lineup. Adding Caggiula's potential to produce on the fourth line is another welcomed addition.

"Teams that end up winning, their depth players come in and really help out," said Caggiula. "Playoffs, your top six guys can sometimes cancel each other out. It's third and fourth-line guys who step up. Sometimes, there are names in the playoffs scoring big goals like Fernando Pisani did back in 2006. It's one of those names that maybe in the regular season you didn't quite hear that often but during the playoffs a guy like that comes out and shines.

"There's always a Cinderella story for someone like that out there."

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