By The Canadian Press
EDMONTON — He’s the rookie with the hard-to-pronounce name who has made a name for himself at the Edmonton Oilers training camp.
Centre Drake Caggiula’s performance so far in the NHL pre-season — a combustible mix of speed, soft hands, and bulldog backchecking — is forcing head coach Todd McLellan to rethink the makeup of his top two forward lines.
“He has an impact every night. He shoots the puck, he makes plays, looks comfortable on the power play, (and) he’s been able to penalty kill,” said McLellan after practice Tuesday.
“That’s not a bad menu for a rookie coming into training camp for the first time.”
McLellan said the key domino effect of Caggiula could be what to do with Leon Draisaitl. The German had been penciled in as the third-line centre, behind Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Caggiula as a third-line pivot would allow McLellan to move Draisaitl to the wing and beef up Nugent-Hopkins’ second line. But McLellan stressed there’s a lot of pre-season left to play: “It’s certainly not written in stone.”
Caggiula, signed as a free agent in May to a two-year entry level deal, has two goals and 14 shots so far in the pre-season, turning heads with quick acceleration and ability to think the game on the fly.
“I think I’ve gotten better almost every day here, and that’s all you can really ask for,” said Caggiula, 22.
“You just want to set a new bar every day and make sure that bar’s a little higher than the one before.”
His surname is Italian, and is pronounced cuh-JOOL’-uh.
From his minor hockey days, it’s been twisted, botched and butchered (usually becoming cuh-GOOL’-ee-uh) not to mention the frequent, gleeful comparisons to the sadistic, depraved tyrant of ancient Rome.
“I know people have been making fun of the whole Caligula thing. I mean it’s all in fun. I don’t really care too much about it, but I’ve had a ton of pronunciations growing up,” he said.
Caggiula is from Pickering, Ont.
“Hockey’s been my life from the get-go,” he said.
“I remember just being in class as a first grader and the teacher asks what do you want to be when you grow up, and I wrote down ‘I want to be a hockey player.”’
He worked with his dad, Sal, who coached and mentored him from age eight to 15. There were on-ice skill drills followed by stickhandling and shooting pucks in the basement.
Skating is the foundation of his game: figure skating when he was young to get his edges, then power skating two or three times a week as he got older.
He played for the University of North Dakota, earning a degree in kinesiology, and in his final year scored 25 goals and 51 points to help lead the Fighting Hawks to a Frozen Four national championship.
He is just five-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and said from the first moment he hit the ice, has been told he is too small.
And relatively speaking, the higher he rises in hockey, the smaller he gets.
His size, he said, has always been his motivation.
“Any time you go in the corner and see a bigger guy, it means you’ve just got to outwork him. You’ve got to go out there and fight for everything.
“It’s the way I try to live my life.”