Drake Caggiula was ready to face the music even before several of his teeth ended up on the ice amidst a pool of blood last month in Anaheim.
It was a “pretty gross” scene according to Ducks’ eyewitness Rickard Rakell.
The Edmonton Oilers’ winger knows he’s had a very ordinary second NHL season.
He hasn’t found any traction with eight goals and 18 points in 50 games, moving all around the lineup, missing nine games to injury or sickness and sitting out as a healthy scratch.
But do we know where Caggiula fits? Not in the least.
He feels he can be a top-nine NHL winger. But he’s also played in a checking role, and with the top dog, Connor McDavid, which is the rub. The coaching staff is searching for where he belongs. He’s played with the captain; he played with the since-traded Mark Letestu. He’s played both wings, on the power play some, killing penalties some. He’s only had three games with more than a single point.
On Saturday, he was in the press box, not playing. A rarity when he starred at University of North Dakota.
In 110 NHL games (60 last year, 50 this season) he has 36 points. Maybe he should have gone to Bakersfield in the AHL last year as a rookie pro to get more work, but he had to clear waivers this season, so the Oilers couldn’t send him to their farm. So, he’s been an everywhere man.
It’s been a major struggle. “There’s been spurts where I’ve played well and others where I haven’t. Times where I’ve got rewarded for playing well and others when I didn’t,” he said.
Injuries, not feeling well, and games where he’s played 17 minutes, others when he’s got seven.
He’s very much a bubble player right now.
“I’m not sure where I fit,” admitted Caggiula. “I’m still trying to figure that out. I’ve played left-wing, right-wing. Played on the first line, the fourth line, been a healthy scratch.
“I think I can contribute more offensively in a top-nine role, but have to do it more consistently. I have to have more to show for what I’ve done.”
The Oilers organizational talent pool is very thin of young forwards, so Caggiula has a prime opportunity here. He just has to seize it. He can skate and he can hit, but after being one of the NCAA’s best players, he has to find a way to be a 35-40-point NHLer to be a top-nine guy.
“I don’t think many of us have reached our expectations after last season,” he said.
He’ll get the down and dirty from general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Todd McLellan at season’s end during player exit interviews, but what does he want to tell them?
“I’d like to consistently play one spot, with consistent linemates definitely helps build chemistry, leads to more offence and stuff,” said Caggiula. “I started out the year with Leon (Draisaitl) on the second line, but by the start of the (regular) season, I was on the third or fourth line and back to the first. It creates a bit of a whirlwind situation for myself. I need to find a spot in the lineup I can call home.
“But I need to play well enough so the coach has confidence in me and he can trust me. There’s been times where Todd’s had that with me and let me play 18-19 minutes, and others where I’ve played six or seven. I have to build that trust. It’s been difficult. I’ve never been a healthy scratch in junior and college until I got to the NHL.”
Caggiula has worn a full cage since a puck smashed into his face a month ago. It’s hot, the sweat builds and he can’t see out of it well, so he’s always taking it off to clean the windshield. He hopes to get it off later this week after seeing the dentist Tuesday.
Rakell thought he saw six teeth on the ice, but Caggiula, who had badly swollen lips, corrected him.
“Just two or three, and they were probably cracked or broken anyway,” he said. “Not a great feeling for myself and people watching maybe, it was sickening but that’s hockey.
“Three teeth gone and one that was cracked in half. I’ve been to the dentist three times. I’ve had a root canal and need a couple more. I’ve had some root tips pulled out, and a cracked tooth filled in. Lots of needles and they don’t feel good. I don’t like the freezing. You’re trying to drink something and it’s pouring out your lips.”