Caggiula felt comfort, opportunity with Oilers

GRAND FORKS -- Drake Caggiula had a checklist of things he wanted.He wanted to sign with an NHL team where there was an opportunity to make the big club. He wanted to go somewhere he felt comfortable. And he wanted to go to an organization that h...

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North Dakota forward Drake Caggiula skates with the puck against Quinnipiac during the NCAA championship game on April 9 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports)

GRAND FORKS - Drake Caggiula had a checklist of things he wanted.
He wanted to sign with an NHL team where there was an opportunity to make the big club. He wanted to go somewhere he felt comfortable. And he wanted to go to an organization that he felt had a lot of good people.
After hearing pitches from the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks, the NCAA Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player signed a two-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers for the rookie max of $925,000 per season (if he’s in the NHL).
“My gut was telling me Edmonton,” the Whitby, Ont., product said. “That’s why I chose there. That’s where I felt the most comfortable.”
Caggiula gained the attention of NHL teams after a strong junior season, but opted to return to University of North Dakota for his senior year. En route to a 25-goal, 51-point national championship year, nearly every NHL team became interested in signing the undrafted free agent.
Caggiula told NHL teams that he wasn’t going to talk much during the season, though.
“I wanted to focus on playing,” he said. “I told them that once the season was over, I’d talk to them. All the teams were good and respected that.”
After leading UND to its eighth national championship - Caggiula had four goals in Frozen Four wins over Denver and Quinnipiac - he began making visits to NHL facilities around the U.S. and Canada.
He started the tour out East and worked his way West.
National writers and television networks began documenting his every move, especially in Canada. NBC showed him on TV during his visit to Philadelphia.
“We weren’t trying to make it a show or a circus,” Caggiula said. “We just wanted to go about our business quietly and do the stuff we had to do. The national media picked up on it and social media was blowing up. It was cool (that they were interested), but at the same time, it was exhausting and we were trying to stay away from that.”
During his visit with Edmonton, Caggiula played a round of golf with former teammate Dillon Simpson, also a member of the Oilers organization. Caggiula said he texted Simpson when he had a few questions about the Oilers.
Although Edmonton has four No. 1 overall picks at forward on its current roster - Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov and Connor McDavid - he said that didn’t deter him from signing there.
“They have a ton of talented, young forwards, and if I could be a part of that group, that would be great,” he said. “Obviously, I could learn a ton from them and that could help my own game.”
If Caggiula makes the Oilers, he would get the opportunity to play in a brand-new building. Edmonton opens state-of-the-art Rogers Place this fall.
“I went for a tour,” Caggiula said. “They’re not quite done yet with it and I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say about it, but it’s going to be a fantastic building.”
Caggiula said he will train back at home in Ontario for a portion of the summer. He’ll also spend time in Grand Forks and Edmonton.
“Obviously, my goal is to make the Edmonton Oilers and play in the NHL,” Caggiula said. “That’s what you grow up dreaming about - playing in the NHL. If I can’t play there right away, my goal is to have a great year in Bakersfield.”
Bakersfield hosts Edmonton’s top minor-league affiliate.
Caggiula, a rare Eastern Canadian recruit for UND, said he’ll carry plenty of memories with him from his time in Grand Forks.
“I think the biggest thing I’ll remember is the people,” he said. “Whether it’s my teammates, coaches, friends or people in the community, North Dakota is a special place. Everyone has so much passion for the hockey team. That’s what I’ll miss most: not only the teammates and coaches but all of the people who supported us and cheered us through thick and thin.”

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