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Drake Caggiula’s value to Blackhawks’ forward group

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Caggiula added tenacity, physicality and fearlessness that was reminiscent of Andrew Shaw.

Chicago Blackhawks v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Second City Hockey continues our Blackhawks 2018-19 season recap on the forwards with a mid-season acquisition, Drake Caggiula.

Player Info and Stats

Acquired: Dec. 30 trade with the Oilers for Brandon Manning and Robin Norell.
Age: 24, turns 25 in June.
Shoots: Left
Contract: Signed through 2019-20 ($1.5M).
Stats: 26 games played, 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists), plus-3, 1.7 shots on goal per game, 12 penalty minutes, 9 blocks, 56 hits, 9 takeaways, 6 giveaways, 14:51 average time on ice.
Advanced stats*: 49.7 CF%, 62.4 oZS%, 7.9 iSCF/60, 9 penalties drawn
Shot Density Map: Where did most of Caggiula’s shots on goal originate?

Favorite highlight from 2018-19 season:
Caggiula found a soft spot in the slot against his former club and one-timed a perfect set-up from Jonathan Toews for his second goal with Chicago. What an effort by Toews, memorable call by Pat Foley and sweet celebration.

Analysis and verdict

When Caggiula was acquired from Edmonton for Manning, the consensus was that just being able to get rid of the struggling defenseman was a win for general manager Stan Bowman. Caggiula was known to be a gritty forward that slots in on the third or fourth line with the potential to score 10-15 goals a season and is not afraid to throw his body around. He is a University of North Dakota product that idolized a former Fighting Sioux, Jonathan Toews.

After a handful of games with Chicago playing in the bottom six, head coach Jeremy Colliton decided to place him on the top line with Toews and Patrick Kane against the Capitals. Their line dominated and scored four even strength goals. It was the start of a seven-game winning streak and a line combination that played in 19 games together down the stretch.

Once Caggiula was placed on a line with Toews and Kane, his style of play and intangibles were noticeably effective. He created space and scoring chances for his linemates by forechecking relentlessly, finishing checks (recorded 56 hits, which was seventh best on the team), winning puck battles, spending time in the ‘dirty areas’ around the net screening the goalie and frustrating defenders enough for them to take penalties. In only 26 games with Chicago, he had the fifth most drawn penalties.

Caggiula’s shifts frequently started in the offensive zone (62.4-percent) mainly because he was on a line with Toews and Kane. This line assignment inevitably boosted Caggiula’s offensive production and he ended up with the sixth highest individual scoring chance generation and total points per 60 minutes rates on the team — 7.9 iSCF/60 and 1.9 TP/60, respectively.

Possession Metrics and Stats on the Caggiula - Toews - Kane unit

When the trio were together, they averaged a 53.1 CF%, 51.7 SCF% and contributed to 15 goals for and only nine goals against.

When Kane and Toews played together without Caggiula, they averaged a 50.8 CF%, 49.8 SCF%, and contributed to 19 goals for and 18 goals against.

Although it’s a relatively small sample size at 19 games, adding Caggiula to the Toews and Kane unit sparked a 2.3-percent improvement in Corsi-For, a 1.9-percent boost in scoring chances for Chicago at even strength and a significantly better goals for versus goals against ratio.

What should Colliton do with Caggiula next season?

Caggiula reminds me of former Blackhawk Andrew Shaw. Despite his 5-foot-10 frame, Caggiula played fearless. He did not mind getting hacked in front of the net trying to tap in a rebound or deflect an incoming shot. Even if Dustin Byfuglien stood in his way, he finished his check. He always hustled in all three zones and did not hesitate to drop the gloves to stand up for a teammate. Caggiula is not the flashiest player, but his style of play is a fundamental ingredient for team success, especially in late season and playoff-style hockey.

His placement in the lineup for the 2019-20 season depends on free agent signings, trades and if there are any lingering injuries to start the season. If Bowman decides to sign or acquire a top-six winger with above-average to high-end scoring ability, then Caggiula will likely move down to the third or fourth line. If Bowman chooses to leave the top-six as it currently is, then the underlying numbers support extending Caggiula’s sample size with Toews and Kane. He can continue his role of frustrating opposing defensemen and centers in the offensive zone with his tenacity and hustle, while Toews and Kane use their elite skillset to create and convert scoring chances.

*Advanced Stat Glossary - All advanced stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Hockey-Reference and Corsica-Hockey

CF% - The percentage of Corsi, which is the number of shots attempts (goals, shots on net, misses or blocks), that are in Chicago’s favor when Player X or Line X is on the ice. Above 50% suggests Player X or Line X spend the majority of their time on the ice possessing the puck and generating shots and scoring chances.
oZS% - The frequency that a shift for Player X starts in the offensive zone.
iSCF/60 - The number of individual scoring attempts that Player X creates per 60 minutes of ice time.