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2023 NHL Draft: Getting to know Luca Cagnoni

Photo of Luca Cagnoni

If you’re looking for a home run in this draft, look at pick 123 Luca Cagnoni. Size appeared to be a huge determining factor for many teams this season, which is likely why Cagnoni fell down the draft boards and landed in San Jose’s lap.

Position: Defense
Age: 18
Date of Birth: Dec. 21, 2004
Height: 5-foot-9
Weight: 168 lbs.
Shoots: Left
2022-23 Portland Winterhawks (WHL): 67 games, 64 points (17 G, 47 A)
2022-23 Portland Winterhawks Playoffs (WHL): 9 games, 7 points (1 G, 6 A)

Cagnoni is about 5-foot-9, 168 pounds. That’s not overwhelming, especially when it comes to defense. While teams were not fans of Cagnoni’s size, scouts didn’t care. Cagnoni was ranked in the top 100 of several scouting reports.

  • The Hockey News – 59th
  • Sportsnet – 63rd
  • Yahoo! Sports – 48th
  • FloHockey – 51st
  • Elite Prospects – 54th

In other words, what Cagnoni lacks in size, he more than makes up for in skill.

What do scouts say about Cagnoni’s game?

FloHockey’s Chris Peters points out that even undersized, Cagnoni had an excellent season with the Portland Winterhawks.

“An impressive puck-mover with high-end skating ability, Cagnoni has just about everything going for him except for his size. He was an exceptional offensive performer for Portland this season with 17 goals and 64 points in 67 games after a strong rookie season the year before,” wrote Peters. “If he can continue to move pucks out of his zone as effectively as he did this season, he’s going to give himself a chance despite the size concerns.”

Across the board, scouts believe that Cagnoni’s hockey IQ will take him far in the game. Hadi Kalakeche of Dobber Prospects says the way Cagnoni thinks the game will go a long way toward making him a top four defenseman in the NHL.

“Highly intelligent two-way defenseman with advanced processing, awareness and manipulation habits,” said Kalakeche. “Puck skills are only above-average in isolation, but blend very well. Needs to add some strength and improve his skating, but could turn out to be a top-four defenseman at the NHL level.”

Sportsnet also highlights Cagnoni’s two-way game.

“Two-way, transitional defenceman who excels leading the rush and can be a threat joining as an extra layer off the attack. There is some risk/reward to his game. He does take chances and can get caught up ice offensively at times,” wrote Jason Bukala. “His game management has room to improve, but his skill set wins out. Not tall. Stocky with good feet and very good puck touch. Potential second PP quarterback.”

Meanwhile, Elite Prospects likes the way that Cagnoni controls the puck and feeds the rush from the defensive zone.

“Coupling dynamic edge work with proactive activation, Cagnoni dissects the forecheck. He shifts one way, explodes in the opposite, hits the open teammate, then flies up the rink to become a lead pass option,” wrote Elite Prospects. “Every one of his puck touches builds off the previous, creating further time and space up the rink. In the offensive zone, Cagnoni controls the game. He’s a volume shooter but rarely takes a poor one. He starts – and finishes – passing plays and fakes shots to set up teammates around the slot.”

Projecting Cagnoni’s future in the NHL

For any pick 100 or greater in the draft, it’s not extremely likely that the player will make it to the NHL. However, scouts seem more optimistic about Cagnoni’s ability to reach the highest level than other players in the draft.

“Cagnoni’s only real flaw is his size. In junior, I think he defends well enough due to his brain and feet but as he ascends levels that will be his main challenge,” wrote The Athletic’s Corey Pronman about Cagnoni. “If you’re a believer, you see a potential Matt Grzelcyk. Either way I think he will play in the NHL but I’m not sure if he’s a long-career type yet.”

Meanwhile, Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting believes that Cagnoni has a good shot at becoming a top four defenseman for an NHL team.

“If you liked Olen Zellweger in his draft year, you are going to be a fan of Luca Cagnoni. Everything that I liked in Olen, I see the same in Cagnoni,” wrote Tessler. “The mobility, the speed, the creativity, the distribution and the defensive positioning. Cagnoni’s ability to assess and deliver positive results consistently off the rush is going to pay off at the NHL level. I see a top 4 NHL defenseman in Cagnoni.”

What’s next for Cagnoni?

Cagnoni attended the Sharks’ development camp earlier this month. He had a few smooth moves against some much larger players, but didn’t manage to find the back of the net.

Cagnoni will return to the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL for another season. Check out what he did last season for the team.

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