Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula will likely be back in the lineup for Wednesday night's Game 3 against the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Caggiula was suspended for Game 2 over an illegal check to the head of Edmonton forward Tyler Ennis in Game 1.
As a Game 2 spectator, the 26-year-old feisty winger watched former teammate Connor McDavid terrorize the Hawks with a goal 19 seconds into the contest, another just 3:46 later and a power-play marker to complete the hat trick late in the second period.
Caggiula and McDavid played together in Edmonton from 2016 until Drake was traded to the Blackhawks on December 30 of 2018.
"In terms of playing with Connor, I had a front row seat to watch him play," Caggiula told the media on a Zoom call Wednesday from Edmonton. "He's obviously a world-class talent. His speed and the way he thinks the game and the way he plays the game is pretty much unlike anybody else. He's one of those players that (if) you let him have his time and space, he's going to be extremely dangerous and I think if we don't get any bodies on him, we don't slow him down and he just has free ice to roam around, it's a pretty dangerous combination for him.
"He's a tremendous player, he makes everybody around him better and that's why he's probably recognized as one of the best players, if not the best player in the world right now and we got to make sure we do our job to limit his speed and limit his opportunities."
The two's relationship goes a long way back.
"We got back to... I was in 12th grade and he was in ninth grade, so I know a lot of people talk that we were best friends for the longest time, but no. We went to school together and we knew each other and obviously playing together for two-and-a-half years, we obviously built on that relationship. I definitely consider us close, we work out together in the summertime and all that sort of stuff. We definitely have a pretty good relationship."
The three-year age gap between the two mattered less to Caggiula when he was looking for guidance when he was about to turn pro.
"When I was leaving college and trying to decide where to sign I had reached out to him and asked him what he thought about Edmonton and obviously he gave me some pretty positive insight and that also (led) into some of the reasons why I signed in Edmonton.
"He was great as a young captain, I was able to lean on him and despite being three years older than him, I leaned on him and asked him a lot of questions, asked him how I could better my game and I was able to learn quite a bit from him. ... Just to be able to play with him was a special treat, but we're on opposite teams now and I got a job to do and I got to play hard against him and he's going to do the same against us. Like I said, all friendships are on hold right now, we're just here to play hockey."
Caggiula got engaged during the NHL pause. It sounds like he expects his friendships with some of the players on Edmonton to be back on after the series concludes because he said some Oilers will get invites to the big day when the details are ironed out later on.
As a player who's had a history of head injuries, Blackhawks forward Drake Caggiula is all for the league punishing illegal checks to the head. Those kinds of hits have no place in the game.
It's why Caggiula was suspended for Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers after delivering a "high, forceful hit on Oilers forward Tyler Ennis [in Game 1] that picked the head, making it the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable," according to the NHL Department of Player Safety.
While he respects the ruling, Caggiula doesn't necessarily agree with it.
"I think what you can ask for is consistency around the league and make sure that it's the same for everybody," Caggiula said. "It was a one-game suspension, I don't necessarily agree with it, but I respect the decision and I totally respect the fact we want to protect players' heads and safety."
The incident occurred at the 7:42 mark of the second period on Saturday. Caggiula's right shoulder clearly made contact with Ennis' head, but it was a tricky play to analyze because Ennis' head positioning changed on the follow-through of his clearing attempt.
At no point during Wednesday's pregame video conference call did Caggiula try to defend his hit on Ennis. He simply wanted clarity from the Department of Player Safety on how that specific hit was different from other non-suspendable ones and got his answer.
Now he's ready to move on.
"The consistency thing is what we're all looking for as players," Caggiula said. "We just want to know what the standard is. I know what the standard is now, and I have no issue with it."