Drake Caggiula wants to stay with the Blackhawks.
But the pending restricted free agent has business to handle on the ice first with Chicago set to play his former team, the Oilers, in a best-of-five qualifier series Aug. 1 in Edmonton.
“I’m in a playoff mode now. I’m all business right now,” Caggiula said Saturday. “It’s time to play hockey, and I don’t want to be having any friends out there [on the Oilers]. I’ll be friends with them after the series is done.”
The 26-year-old forward scored 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 40 games this season before the NHL was put on pause March 12 due to health concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Despite missing 40 games — including 27 games this past season — due to concussions the past two seasons with Chicago since he was acquired from Edmonton on Dec. 30, 2018, Caggiula plans to keep playing his hard-nose, aggressive brand of hockey.
“I mean, I would like to play until I’m 50 if I can. I’m feeling healthy, head is feeling strong, feeling clear and good, hand is feeling good,” he said. “I’m a hockey player to the core and I’m going to play this game as long as I can. Injuries happen, life happens, who knows what happens but I want to play for as long as I possibly can. I want to make this my career.
“I don’t want to do anything other than play hockey so I want to play this game as long as I can like I said. If injuries come down the road that’s something you handle as things come, but I’m not thinking about stepping away from the game by any means due to injury.”
Caggiula spent the pause back home in the Toronto area where he focused on healing his hand, which appeared to be a fairly quick process as he competed in the team’s “NHL 20” gaming tournament. In a whirlwind week at the end of May and start of June, he got engaged to his girlfriend Laura Kirkpatrick, and the couple announced with a hockey-theme gender reveal that they’re expecting a boy.
After making big moves in his personal life, Caggiula turned his focus to wanting to make an impact on the ice.
“This is obviously a huge opportunity [for me], especially going into free agency... I want to prove my worth, I want to prove that I’m a type of player that can excel in these types of games,” he said. “I think my style of play definitely does play [to] playoff hockey.”
Caggiula has skated on the third line with rookies Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach throughout training camp at Fifth Third Arena. Dach, who is only 19, took a step forward in his development during the pause and is more confident and stronger with the puck. Kubalik was named one of three Calder Trophy finalists after scoring 30 goals (26 at even strength).
Dach made one of the best plays during Saturday’s scrimmage when he out maneuvered Matthew Highmore at center ice and drove to the net until Collin Delia made a save. But it was a pick by Caggiula at the blue line on Highmore that helped create space for Dach.
Kirby Dach with a give-and-go with Duncan Keith through the middle on a rush then Drake Caggiula taps it past Tomkins five-hole. pic.twitter.com/lWNCZHTEzt— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) July 15, 2020
Caggiula is one of 13 players (nine RFAs) set to hit free agency for the Blackhawks. He signed a two-year, $3 million contract with Edmonton in 2018, and will want a raise but also has a desire to stay in Chicago.
“I’d love to be here for the remainder of my career,” he said. “This is an amazing place to play, it’s close to home for me [and I] grew up as a Blackhawks fan as well, so I’d love to play here the rest of my career. But hockey can be an unpredictable sport. With that being said, I just want to do whatever I can in these playoffs and [with] this opportunity to make sure I can set myself up for following years.”