Promoted into bigger role, Blackhawks’ Drake Caggiula must prove his playoff value
Heralded as a potential X-factor entering the Hawks’ playoff push, Caggiula has been a nonfactor instead.
Entering the playoffs, wing Drake Caggiula was the Blackhawks’ worst-kept secret.
Teammates, experts and reporters universally heralded Caggiula as the Hawks’ likely postseason X-factor.
It all made sense: Caggiula played well during the healthy portions of his injury-plagued regular season, had recovered fully during the time off, plays a gritty game that seems perfectly styled for postseason hockey and would be motivated by his about-to-expire contract.
Even Caggiula himself joined the hype train.
‘‘You can have a good season and a bad playoffs, and everybody will remember you for the bad playoffs,’’ he said July 30. ‘‘That’s where I think my game fits in. Playoffs are tough hockey, dirty hockey, and I like to play in those types of games, those types of areas. Playoff hockey suits my game very well, and I just want to make sure I do whatever I can to showcase that I can play this kind of style and play in these big games.’’
Six games into the Hawks’ postseason run, however, the most notable thing Caggiula has done is play in only five games because he was suspended for Game 2 against the Oilers after an illegal check to Tyler Ennis’ head in Game 1.
Other than that, the X-factor has been a nonfactor.
Caggiula has zero goals and zero assists. He has17 hits, but that’s mainly because he rarely has had the puck. After all, it’s hard (illegal, actually) to hit guys when in possession.
During Caggiula’s 54 minutes of five-on-five ice time so far, the Hawks have been out-attempted 68-38. That’s the worst Corsi rating (35.9%) on the team. They also have been out-chanced 35-21. Only two players grade worse than Caggiula’s 37.5% rating in that category.
Even beyond the statistics, he hasn’t been a noticeably impactful player in the way many expected. Instead of rising amid the chaos, physicality and intensity of playoff hockey, Caggiula has looked more irrelevant than he did during the regular season.
Caggiula is lucky the Hawks only have been outscored 2-1 in his 54 minutes. Asked Friday about his struggles, however, he seemed upbeat and unperturbed.
‘‘Points will come if you do the right things,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘It is what it is. I’m not the guy to sit out there looking for points. I know what I have to do to make players around me be successful.’’
That positive attitude about his performance was echoed by his coach, too.
‘‘He’s a versatile player,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said. ‘‘He can do different things for you. He can play with good players because he gets on the forecheck and pressures the puck and forces turnovers and is willing to go to the net. . . . He’s a nice guy to have in your lineup to move around.’’
In fact, Colliton elevated Caggiula to a bigger role in the Hawks’ 4-3 loss Thursday against the Golden Knights in Game 2. He played 15 minutes, 39 seconds — a substantial increase — on a line with Patrick Kane and Kirby Dach.
That line still was slaughtered by the Knights in shots, but Caggiula did at least help score a goal.
Early in the second period, he drove the net on a transition attack and planted himself in the crease, occupying Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt so that Dach could stand alone at the back post and tap in a rebound.
‘‘I was able to get in front of the net, park my butt there and create opportunities for the other guys,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘We have a good blend of different skill sets on that line. Hopefully we can build off that for the next game.’’
He can’t simply hope; he has to. The Hawks trail 2-0 in the series entering Game 3 on Saturday, the first leg of a weekend back-to-back that could potentially end their season.
And while a number of players must improve if the Hawks wish to rally and advance, Caggiula sits atop the list. It’s time for him to prove his talents really do translate well to the playoffs.