CAGGIULA RETURNED TO FORM IN PIVOTAL SEASON WITH PENGUINS
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Coming off of neck fusion surgery in early 2022, Drake Caggiula still had a lot of questions going into the summer.
Questions like how his body would hold up moving forward, if he could still perform at a high level or even play the tenacious style that was his calling card throughout his career.
The biggest question that kept echoing in his head was whether or not he’d even have a team following the procedure.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get a contract,” Caggiula said, harkening back to last summer. “I thought maybe I’d be in Russia or something like that.”
Ultimately, he got that contract, but he ended up with more than just job security.
He also got a new lease on his career.
How Caggiula Returned to Form
When Caggiula inked a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the expectation was that he would play significant minutes in the AHL for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In 65 games, he posted pro career-high totals in every offensive category.
Twenty-two goals. Thirty-one assists. Fifty-three points.
He was an all-situations commander for the Penguins, playing on the top power-play unit and producing 15 power-play points while also topping the team with three shorthanded goals.
It didn’t start that way for the 28-year-old, though.
It took Caggiula more than a few games to find his rhythm and scoring touch, given he was extremely limited by the aforementioned neck surgery and a pandemic over the past three years.
But as he gained more reps in both practice and game action, he came alive for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. In fact, since Christmas, no one on the Penguins had more goals or points than Caggiula.
“It took me probably, you know, 10 to 15 games at the start of the season to really find my footing. But I think from that point on, I took a big step forward,” he said. “I proved that I can still play at a very high level.”
Not only did Caggiula prove that he could still play, but his first foray into the AHL introduced a new skill to his résumé: leadership.
During his pro career, he shared locker rooms with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Kyle Okposo and Connor McDavid. Those names were expected to carry the lion’s share of locker room responsibilities.
This year, Caggiula was thrust into that role in the AHL.
Always seen as an affable and animated teammate going back to his days at the University of North Dakota, he took to the leadership role like a duck to water.
What Caggiula Had to Say?
“That [leadership] role is something I relish,” he said back in December. “I want to be a leader on the ice, as well as off the ice. I have a ton of experience in pro hockey, and I can pass that forward to our young guys. It’s a cool position to be in.”
Caggiula is an unrestricted free agent this summer, but he has already expressed his eagerness to return to the Penguins organization. Whether or not the Penguins’ new management retains the services of the gritty veteran is yet to be seen, but wherever he ends up, Caggiula will know he’s still got the goods.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity that I had here to showcase what I could do,” he said. “I think I proved that I can still play, I can still be disruptive, and I can still produce at the same time. I had the opportunity to get some confidence back and just enjoy playing the game of hockey again.”