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Luca Cagnoni Ready To Prove Doubters Wrong, Shares How He Knows Celebrini



Credit: Luca Cagnoni

Luca Cagnoni is used to being doubted.

On the heels of his historic 90-point Western Hockey League season, the San Jose Sharks rewarded the smaller defenseman with an entry-level contract.

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Listed at 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds on Elite Prospects, Cagnoni has been frequently overlooked throughout his career.

“I got passed up in the WHL Draft because of my size,” he said. “Since I was 13, my dad came up to me and was like, ‘Play [with] a chip on your shoulder. Show these guys that size doesn’t matter to you. Go into every battle, go hit guys. Play like you’re over 6-foot.’

“It’s definitely like a staple of my game: I don’t think I fear anyone. I don’t think I play scared.”

Cagnoni was doubted again in the 2023 Draft, as he slipped to the fourth round and the No. 123 pick to the San Jose Sharks.

He’ll carry that bulldog mindset into next season, where he is eligible to play in the AHL because he will turn 20 right before 2025. This summer, he’s focusing on staying at the gym before San Jose Sharks development camp. Then?

“Hopefully, crack the AHL roster and get some games up there,” he said. “That’s the hope right now, that’s the goal. You always want to move up and I got lucky that I got a late birthday.”

If he’s in San Jose next season, he will be part of the organization’s growing young core featuring William Eklund, Thomas Bordeleau, Shakir Mukhamadullin, Henry Thrun, and potentially, Will Smith. That’s in addition to likely 2024 first-overall pick, and fellow British Columbia native, Macklin Celebrini.

“I played with his [older] brother Aiden [Celebrini] at [Burnaby Winter Club] when I was in bantam,” Cagnoni said. “I’ve encountered [Macklin] a couple times. I’ve probably skated with him a couple of times and stuff like that.”

“It’s pretty exciting, another generational player,” he said of Macklin Celebrini. “I think we all saw what he did this year. It’s pretty special. It’s exciting to hopefully get him into this organization because he’ll definitely make an impact.”

Despite putting up 90 points with the Portland Winterhawks—the most by a WHL defenseman since 1994—Cagnoni affirmed that offensive production was not his focus entering the 2023-24 season.

“I knew that I already had that,” Cagnoni said. “I was just trying to dial in my D-zone more, because I think to be at the NHL level you have to be two-way.”

Cagnoni gave an example: “Someone like Quinn Hughes. His rookie year, people doubted his defensive side, and now looking at him. He’s dialed it in. He’s probably already one of the best defensemen in the league.”

“That’s definitely something I had to take care of this year,” Cagnoni said. “I thought with the Sharks’ player development guys and Portland [staff], they helped me throughout this year to really dial it in there. They gave me opportunities to shut down top lines.”

Cagnoni models his game after Hughes, Cale Makar, and Sam Girard.

Among the staff that helped Cagnoni to his historic season was San Jose Sharks development coach Luca Sbisa, a former Winterhawks defenseman. Sbisa made trips to Portland and to the WHL playoffs to watch and advise Cagnoni.

“We had a couple of talks this year… making sure I’m doing my job, pushing the play,” Cagnoni said. “You can’t really be a stay-at-home defenseman when you’re 5-foot-10, so you have to push the play up the ice and be a threat offensively. But, he wanted to make sure that I’m sound defensively for the next level [too].”

With his new contract, Cagnoni said his first purchase will be something nice for his parents or sister; a reward for the time and money they spent on Cagnoni throughout his junior career.

But, Cagnoni said: “I’ll go look for something for myself, too, while I am out.”

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