Photo Credit: Megan Connelly / Portland Winterhawks
Luca Cagnoni is a 2023 NHL Draft eligible defenseman, who hails from Burnaby, British Columbia. Cagnoni plays for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
Cagnoni was not selected in a WHL draft, but was listed and signed by the Portland Winterhawks in March of 2020. He had been playing for the Burnaby Winter Club U18 team (CSSHL U18) and had been in the Burnaby Winter Club program throughout this youth.
In the Smaht Scouting preliminary rankings, Cagnoni was ranked #25. Leading up to the months before Cagnoni’s draft year season kicked off, I watched quite a bit of Cagnoni tape and immediately saw the package of tools in his tool belt and immediately starting thinking that if he could put all of the tools together that he could be a truly dynamic puck moving defenseman. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the report, but he has put the tools together and has been a great defenseman for Portland this year.
D.O.B – December 21, 2004
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Cagnoni’s Style Of Play
As you can expect given Cagnoni’s puck moving tendencies, he likes to pinch up quite a bit throughout each game. It doesn’t matter if Cagnoni has the puck, regardless he will pinch up. When in possession of the puck at the point and he sees open ice leading to the slot, he takes it. When he doesn’t have the puck, sees a teammate skating with the puck and an attacker bearing down on him, Cagnoni will skate into open ice to provide an outlet lane. Once in possession, he looks to drive into the slot and then feather passes to open teammates. Should an attacker come skating him to shut him down, he will use his handling, reach and shiftiness to manipulate attackers to one side, then pivot out and quickly find a tight passing lane to exploit. For instance, check out this primary assist that he had against Victoria in which he skated up to the attacker and kept the puck in front of the attacker, then peeled away and passed through a very tight lane to a teammate at net front.
As I just mentioned in the above section, Cagnoni is a dynamic puck moving defenseman. We will discuss in more detail later in on the transitional play section, but Cagnoni’s ability to move up the ice at a quick pace with possession of the puck has led a lot of scoring chances for the Portland Winterhawks. When you watch Portland games, Cagnoni more often than not is the F1. Right after skating into the zone, he will look to force his way into high pressure situations. He wants to attack the middle of the ice and draws the attack immediately when he skates to the perimeter line. In situations in which he is taking on multiple attackers, he overcommits and tries to shift the puck around the pressure. Sometimes he works the half-wall boards when taking on a few attackers, but he will end up getting trapped more often than not. In those particular situations, the defensive unit has the upper hand and can start to isolate Cagnoni from outlet lanes. In those situations Cagnoni will try to bail himself out with a cross ice pass, but it will be through a tight lane and those passes more often then not are well-tracked by the opponent and intercepted.
Instead of trying to immediately engage multiple attackers, Cagnoni should either look to delay and wait for outlet options or dump the puck into the corner and hope that a teammate in stride will be able to keep his speed in order to win the puck.
When facing one attacker, he can get good separation when stick-handling around attackers in the offensive zone when he is skating towards medium danger. For instance, check out Cagnoni shifting the puck around Carson Lambos. Shifts the puck around Lambos, has good reach that allows him to extend the puck out, secure and then drives to the net.
Cagnoni’s puck distribution is also well-developed. When he skates into pressure and looks to complete a pass, he tends to use whatever lane is given to him. With that said, he will resort to passing underneath the attacker’s stick when he has no other lane to exploit. When the pressure is far more relaxed, he can wire quick passes from the blue line to a teammate positioned cross ice in a back door shooting position. He loves to key up one-timer opportunities for his teammates in back door situations.
When his center wins a face-off draw in the offensive zone and he captures possession of the puck immediately after the face-off victory, Cagnoni isn’t looking to hang around with the puck for long. As soon as he sees a teammate find open space down low, he looks to feather a pass in. Sometimes, he will put a bit too much power behind those passes and it’ll be difficult for his teammate to secure, but it’s great to see him look to get the puck to open teammates down low quickly.
Cagnoni’s shot is definitely an area that is still in development. He struggles at elevating his shot. For the most part when shooting from the perimeter or the blue line, he ends up firing a lot of low shots. Shots that the goaltender can easily track and make a clean save on. When he tries going glove high with his shot, his shot ending up right at the goaltender’s glove. Since Cagnoni does struggle with shot elevation, when he does look to shoot from range, he ends up targeting situations in which there is a lot of traffic at net front, so he can get a shot on net in which the goaltender will struggle with tracking. For instance, check out Cagnoni’s wrist shot low blocker side goal that he scored against Kamloops with traffic.
Carter Sotheran didn’t come up in the offensive zone, but I do need to bring him up now. I truly love the Luca Cagnoni – Carter Sotheran pairing. For Sotheran, he is used as more of a defensive defenseman in his role. Given how elusive Cagnoni can be in transition and in the offensive zone, there are plenty of shifts in which Cagnoni is slightly out of position and thus the Winterhawks need to call upon a defensive defenseman with great east-west speed who can shut down the opposition rush well. I just love the pairing because it’s allows Cagnoni to showcase his exceptional transitional play and Portland still knows that Cagnoni has a reliable defensive partner to back him up. With all of that said, there are plenty of shifts in which Sotheran handles the bulk of the board battles on both sides (left and right) behind the red line since he is bit stronger with his physicality than Cagnoni. That allows Cagnoni to patrol the slot and puts him in a prime position to kick off the rush by establishing an open outlet passing lane.
While Sotheran does a good job of closing out gaps and routinely will handle board battles for the defensive unit, Cagnoni does an excellent job of closing out gaps himself. He does a good job of staying toe to toe with the attacker who is trying to shift the puck around in the corner. When the attacker pivots, Cagnoni pivots and remains in position with the attacker. Cagnoni’s pressure will be a bit laid back when working the low danger boards. He’s not in your face. He is there at a distance and stays in tow. When he is skating neck and neck with attackers, you can expect that he will lift up his stick to irritate attackers and cause puck disruption. Once he grabs a hold of the puck after shaking the attackers off of the puck, he quickly completes an outlet pass.
While he does do a good job at stick lifting to cause puck disruption, he doesn’t have a true active stick. When defending against the rush, he isn’t assertive with his active stick until the rush gets into medium danger. He follows along till the attack gets in medium danger and then extends his stick out to take away space. But, I’d like to see him far more assertive when defending and develop an active stick. An active stick would allow him to manipulate oppositional puck movement and ultimate would allow him to close out gaps quicker.
When Sotheran is defending against the puck carrying attacker who is driving the rush, Cagnoni does a great job at implementing tight back check pressure on the non puck carrying attacker who is skating through centered ice. Cagnoni will also lift his stick and extend it towards the attacker’s stick to make it a challenge for the attacker to grab a hold of the puck when an attacker passes them the puck. Even when the attacker can grab a hold of the puck, Cagnoni is right on the attacker and giving him absolutely no room.
Cagnoni isn’t a physical defenseman, but he will engage in hip and shoulder checks from time to time. He will hip check to get the advantage in loose puck board battles in his own zone and complete shoulder checks at open ice to neutralize oppositional rush attempts.
When he picks up possession of a loose puck behind the red line, he usually slows the pace down and jump starts the pace when the attacker comes in range. But, when the attacker comes into range, sometimes he will coast before deploying crossovers and thus doesn’t get the immediate acceleration that he needs to create separation. Instead of coasting initially, I’d like to see him activate once drawing the attacker in.
While we do see instances in which Cagnoni struggles to activate quickly when the attack is closing in. He has excellent reach and will use it to steer the puck around heavy traffic. But, not only does he have really good reach, but he is also quite good at manipulating the attacker in and then using his reach to push the puck away from the attacker and then skate up the defensive zone. After manipulating the attacker and skating into space, he will then deliver a quick feed to a teammate in the neutral zone. In the clip below from a November 19th contest against Kamloops, he draws the attacker into the position of the loose puck by changing his pace when closing in on the loose puck. He lures the attacker to a certain spot by changing his pace and quickly uses his reach to get the puck away from pressure.
Cagnoni’s reach and manipulation allows him to be rather crafty when pressure is closing in on him. But, he also is a great problem solver. When Cagnoni acquires loose pucks and the pressure is amounting, he will usually decide to shift further back into his own zone. Draws the pressure in and also draws passing options by allowing his teammates an opportunity to establish open ice. If he isn’t changing his pace, he usually is doubling back with speed and looking to find a different lane to use.
Cagnoni’s problem solving isn’t just evident when turning back from pressure to regroup or doubling back and quickly using a different lane. There are plenty of instances in which Cagnoni draws heavy pressure and has to get crafty to get the puck away from danger. You will see him complete backhand shovel passes to a teammate with open ice when two attackers were closing in on him. He quickly identified his open teammate, the pressure and the lane to use. In addition, he deciphers what type of pass would be the most optimal. Cagnoni will also complete drop passes when running into pressure and he has a teammate skating in from behind. Plus, he does a great job of identifying passing lanes that he can use underneath attacker’s sticks and quickly taking that lane.
When Cagnoni doesn’t have possession of the puck, he is constantly looking to use his straight line speed to get him aligned with his puck carrying attacker in order to provide an outlet lane.
Cagnoni will be very assertive with his positioning when he spots a vulnerable attacker who has their back turned to him. He will use his speed to get in position, skate right behind the attacker and extend his stick out to the attacker’s stick to cause puck disruption. Cagnoni might struggle to net possession of the puck afterwards as the puck peels further away, but his ability to strip the puck away could lead to his teammates grabbing a hold of possession.
As I mentioned in the defensive section, Cagnoni doesn’t have an active stick, but I have to imagine that he was adopt one over time. Even though he doesn’t have an active stick, he does an excellent job maintaining good positional alignment on puck carriers. When he is aligned with attackers, he can use his stick lifting to make up for the active stick.
Cagnoni thrives when in possession of the puck in the neutral zone. His distribution and his speed make him tough to shut down. Cagnoni builds up acceleration through his crossovers and will rotate from those crossovers to straight line skate extensions. But, his edges and crossovers allow him to shift skating lanes on the fly as he looks to adjust his positioning in comparison to the opposition.
My favorite shifts when watching Cagnoni are the shifts in which he looks to complete a give and go zone entry. While on the move through the neutral zone and he sees a winger right on the blue line, he will feed a pass to his teammate. His teammate becomes the F1 and Cagnoni grabs open ice in medium danger. That allows his teammate to create a scoring chance as Cagnoni opens the passing lane for him to utilize and it shows you how Cagnoni can manipulate oppositional pressure by dictating who they should be focused on.
Cagnoni shows off his problem solving trait quite a bit when moving the puck from zone to zone. Should he walk into a tight pressured situation, he will button hook and double back and regroup. In some cases he will use his crossovers to pick up speed and use another skating lane in, but he loves to use his crossovers to gain just the amount of separation he needs to send a pass to an open teammate.
But, Cagnoni won’t back off if the pressure isn’t tightening up. If the pressure is more relaxed, he does a good job at using his mobility to pivot and find an open teammate to deliver a pass to.
In situations in which he picked up the loose puck in the neutral zone, he doesn’t hold onto the puck for long because he expects that if he didn’t see an attacker skating with him to the puck that one is coming. So, he quickly delivers a pass to the closest open option.
I’ve talked about Cagnoni’s skating throughout the report, so I’m going to use this section as more of a recap.
Cagnoni possesses a great forward stride extension with length that allows him get to loose pucks. His crossovers allow him to build up acceleration nicely and he will lean on his edges to retain speed when shifting lanes in the neutral zone.
Cagnoni does need to work a bit on activating after slowing down the tempo in his own zone and wanting to pick up speed to skate away from pressure. Sometimes when activating after shifting from skating backwards to skating forwards, his activation is slightly delayed and that will lead to more contested puck battles.
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.
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.
January 17, 2023
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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