Drake Caggiula Might Be an NCAA Free Agent Worth Targeting


The NHL trade deadline is now behind us and generally that
means accepting that the players you have today are the players you’re gonna
have tomorrow, and that can be pretty boring to fans of a team that definitely
won’t be playoff bound.

The need for something interesting to happen often leads us
to the generally poor idea of signing college free agents and the Leafs have
quite an interesting history of this. Casey Bailey, Tyler Brennan, Simon
Gysbers, Brayden Irwin, and Christian Hanson are some of the names that remind
us that this isn’t a great idea.

Ben Scrivens and Tyler Bozak, despite what you may think of
them, have to fall more on the success story side of things, as both have been
assets in the NHL at one point or another and it’s because of them that I’m
allowing myself to consider the possibility of signing Drake Caggiula, a 5’10
center and Hobey Baker candidate out of the University of North Dakota.

The reasons for signing a kid from the 6 named Drake should be
obvious for anyone who has followed MLSE. Bring him in and surely elite free
agents will follow. Over the course of the season Caggiula has made other
strong cases for his signing…

Those highlights should at least show that this isn’t an
attempt to land someone who can slot in on the fourth line in an energy role. This
is an attempt to bring in a bona fide offensive talent, but despite having a
gift for offence at the NCAA level, the 5’10 forward also has a physical,
gritty game that could make him a valuable option at the bottom of the lineup
as well.

Dave Hakstol via
Bob McKenzie and TSN

“He’ll play a
game in the NHL, there’s no doubt of that in my mind,” Hakstol added.
“When it happens or what he does with it once he gets there, that will be
up to him. He’ll have to prove he can handle the step up in pace. NHL players
are so big but they’re also so fast. I think he can do it. Drake is not big but
he’s hockey strong. He competes hard, too hard sometimes. He hits with a
purpose, loves to really hit people, but he’s a veteran and we need him to be
scoring goals. He plays the game hard. He plays the 200-foot game.”

Drake has definitely been showcasing his offence in his
senior year averaging 1.26 ppg and he should easily finish with over 20 goals
before the NCAA tournament season is done. His junior year saw him produce put
up .85 ppg and finish with 18 goals, his current total this season, but
generally his production has steadily increased. Of Caggiula’s 21 assists this
season, 10 of them have been secondary assists and nine of his points have come
on the powerplay.  It’s likely that
playing with highly touted prospects Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz this season
have helped him improve his numbers and the University of North Dakota remains
a powerhouse team, Drake currently sits second on the team in scoring, four
points back of Boeser, but they are tied for the team lead in ppg.

SBNation College Hockey’s Top 100 NCAA NHL Prospects of 2015:

“Caggiula isn’t a big
player, but certainly packs a punch. His relentless puck pursuit and
willingness to initiate contact makes him a tenacious forechecker and a very
effective defender. He’s shown improved scoring touch over each of his three
seasons at North Dakota, but his skating ability and tenacity is his ticket to
the next level.”

Originally, Caggiula was selected in the 3rd
round of the 2010 OHL draft by the Erie Otters and shortly after that decided
that the NCAA route was more to his liking, and specifically the University of
North Dakota since he grew up a Jonathan Toews fan. Drake played his first
three seasons under Dave Hakstol, the current head coach of the Flyers and last
season was invited to the Sabres Prospects Camp, so there’s likely interest
from a few NHL teams.

When we’re looking at free agent college centers they are a
little older, around 23 because they would have maxed out their Canadian
Junior-A or USHL eligibility before heading to school, but Caggiula is 21, not
turning 22 until June, giving him a bit more time to develop than someone like
Casey Bailey who pretty much had to sink or swim this season in the Leafs
season. And with a number of Marlies likely to graduate permanently to the NHL
next season, it’s entirely possible that Drake could slide into a role similar
what is being vacated by Brendan Leipsic or Nikita Soshnikov.

SBNation College Hockey

“Caggiula is a
tremendous college hockey player, but far from a sure bet at the pro level. He
is a smaller player, but gets by with hustle and grit. How will that translate
to the pros? His upside is probably as a fringe AHL/NHL player. He’ll have to
prove himself in the minor leagues before he gets a serious look at the NHL
level, but might be worth an NHL free agent contract when this season is over.”

Long and short of it is that signing Caggiula is still very
likely to play out the same way as Casey Bailey and so many others before him. The
difference is that the Leafs are about to free up as many as nine UFA contracts
and possibly a couple of RFA contracts to go with the two available SPC spaces
at their disposal right now. Is it better to use a contract on a cheap 22 year
old with possible upside who can at least skate with the Marlies next season,
or should they begin the process of re-signing Rich Clune?

Granted there are a lot of options in between those two, but
for now, I’d say the idea of bringing in a talented college prospect from the
GTA isn’t worth excluding and that’s about as strong an endorsement as I’ll
ever give NCAA Free Agent season.

  • leafs college prospects give me nightmares. hyman looks good. the rest… disappointments. I’m apathetic to this. if it happens, fine. if it doesn’t, who cares. probable fringe minor leaguer and occasional bottom 6 plug in guy. we have a lot of those. maybe he could help the marlies when all of the prospects graduate but the leafs still have other prospects graduating from the ohl/europe next year.

  • Tyler Bozak has definitely been a success like him or not, but there have been too many places taken up in the prospect pool of the past on College UFAs. The Leafs are now into drafting so no urgency to fill up the spots with UFAs from the college ranks. Seeing as these guys are older and therefore more what you see is what you get from here on out I would much sooner the Leafs add draft picks that have potential.