Cogliano heads to Canada’s camp

By Guy Flaming

Holding true to his nickname, Edmonton’s first round pick of 2005 is fast becoming one of the key ‘Cogs’ in the Oiler machine. Andrew Cogliano is one of the most electrifying freshmen in the NCAA and certainly ranks right up at the top of Edmonton’s prospect list next to Rob Schremp in terms of skill and talent. Together with young Oilers like Ales Hemsky, Raffi Torres and Jarret Stoll, it is clear that the exciting brand of hockey associated with the Oilers will continue in coming years.

The product of Woodbridge, Ontario has rocketed onto the national scene since helping Canada win gold at the 2004 U18 Junior World Cup. In that tournament held jointly in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Cogliano was a leader for Canada on and off the score sheet with nine points in five games including a pair of assists in the final match, the first coming on the eventual game winner.

Cogliano spent the 2004-05 season with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Junior A league (OHA) where he racked up an impressive 102 points (36 goals, 66 assists) in just 49 games. As the league’s leading scorer, it is notable that the 18-year-old was the only Junior A player selected from Ontario in 2005.

Some questioned Cogliano’s first round projections prior to the draft citing the opinion that playing in tier II as opposed to the OHL inflated the speedster’s stats too much to be taken as accurate. At least one NHL scout disagrees.

“It’s not like this kid had never played against good competition,” said the centrally based scout. “When you play Junior A in Ontario you’re playing against a lot of OHL players, some kids too but the kids have upside that they’re going to play in the OHL in the next year or so. The other guys have probably already had a taste of the OHL and those are the guys he was matching up with all the time.”

When asked by Hockey’s Future why he hadn’t chosen to take the OHL path, Cogliano was quick to point out that the scholastic route had been his plan for a long time.

“I knew pretty early on that I was going to go to Michigan, probably back in my Bantam year when I was 15, and that was a thing that I always wanted to do,” Cogliano recently told HF. “I had been to Michigan and saw the school’s set up and saw the atmosphere and I really enjoyed it so I was committed to coming down here. Since I was committed I just decided to play junior with St. Mike’s where I went to school and it worked out well for those two years before I came down here.”

The St. Mike’s Majors own Cogliano’s OHL rights but don’t expect the center to jump back across the border like former Michigan Wolverine Mike Comrie did back in his junior days.

“I’m enjoying things far too much down here,” he stated. “I think this is the best possible hockey I could be playing at my age because every night I’m playing against guys up to 24 or even 26 years old and I want to mature quickly and as fast as I can. The hockey couldn’t be better and the practicing is helping me a lot. I love being here going to school and I’m enjoying life.”

Heading into the draft Cogliano says he was confident that he would be selected inside the first two rounds but even after the NHL team interviews, insists he had no clue the Oilers were interested in him.

“I knew I could definitely fit their system with the way I play, but there was nothing too much about the interview,” said Cogliano. “I thought that their interview was really a standard kind of interview; there wasn’t really any high expectations coming out of there but it was relieving to hear my name called out by them.”

Edmonton isn’t the closest NHL city to his Ontario home but the fact that it is a Canadian team is something the youngster is excited about.

“It’s a Canadian team and I like getting to stay in Canada,” he said. “I like watching all the Canadian teams play on Saturday night. I definitely don’t think I could have gone to a better team and I’m really happy; I think anybody in my situation would be happy about it.”

At Michigan, Cogliano is just one of 11 rookies on the roster but established himself early this year as a serious offensive talent for the Wolverines. Along with freshman Jack Johnson (CAR), Michigan has two of the top three players in rookies scoring in the entire nation and that’s a compliment to the school’s recruiting abilities and to the coaching staff who has to quickly whip a young crop into shape.

“We have 11 freshmen and we’re all trying to get together as quick as possible,” Cogliano began. “We started off really well like 9-1 and we were at the top of the rankings but right now we’re just going through a little bit of trouble.”

Truly the Wolverines began the year on a high having a 10-1-1 record after their first dozen games. However, being swept by Minnesota and Miami in back-to-back weekends quickly brought Michigan back down to earth.

“There will definitely be ups and downs in a season and right now we’re experiencing a bit of a lull,” Cogliano told HF before the club rebounded and beat Nebraska-Omaha over the weekend. “We’ve really come together over the last week and the weekend and we discussed what we’re going through and I really think there won’t be more problems for the rest of the season.”

On a personal level, the 5’10, 180 lb center is very pleased with his performance thus far in the year, but is fighting to get out of a midseason lull just like the team is. Spending most of his time on Michigan’s third line between Tyler Swystun and Tim Miller, Cogliano doesn’t get as much ice time as some would like to see him get, but the Oiler prospect isn’t complaining.

“The first three games I didn’t have any points but I was playing well and the games after that I picked it up and got some confidence going and I think it’s the same thing at this part of the season,” he argued. “I think I’m playing excellent hockey, the coaches tell me I’m playing great and I think it just hurts more because the team isn’t producing that much.”

If his mini-slump in Michigan was causing him grief, then surely the call from Hockey Canada recently was enough to put a smile on his face. Cogliano was one of a select few players invited to Vancouver to take part in the Canadian World Junior camp currently underway in the B.C. city.

“I’ve waited for this for a long time,” he said. “I’ve always watched it at Christmas and getting invited, for me being recognized like that is a big opportunity that must be taken and I’m going to make the best of it.”

Cogliano turned a lot of heads in August during Canada’s summer camp and hopes that he and his summer linemates of Guillaume Latendresse (MTL) and Benoit Pouliot (MIN) will be reunited when the puck drops after Christmas. Getting up for the tournament won’t be a problem for Cogliano who has had previous international experience and considers it the ultimate accolade.

“When I go try out for a national team I don’t have a problem stepping up and elevating my game; it’s truly an honor and I play with more passion that I do in regular games,” he said while acknowledging that he surprised many onlookers. “In the summer I think I had a good camp, I definitely was put on the radar screen because nobody knew me coming out of junior and no one really knew what I had.”

Despite his past history with Hockey Canada, Cogliano admits that he wasn’t 100 percent confident he would get an invite to try out for the 2006 team because of his NCAA status. But that was before August and the solid performance that most believe earned him a spot on the final team.

“I think the summer camp put me on the map for coach Sutter,” he said. “I’ve won two gold medals with Canada already, I think that definitely is a good part of my resume. I’m playing well in Michigan and playing in all situations because the coach has given me a lot of confidence to play at a high level. It definitely crossed my mind but I think Canada always wants the best players and they’ll do whatever they have to in order to get the best players.”

Inside the Michigan room there are three other players bound for the World Junior Championships aside from Cogliano, but they’ll all be wearing the red, white and blue of the United States.

“They’re unbelievable players and that’s going to be a really strong team,” Cogliano said in reference to defensemen Johnson and Mark Mitera (’06) as well as forward Kevin Porter (PHX). “Jack Johnson will probably be anchoring the defense; I think he’s one of the best defensemen I’ve ever played with in my career.”

According to Cogliano, his greatest asset is his speed, but scouts will tell you it’s his ability to play well with others that makes him valuable in a team game.

“He takes things to the net and when things get closed off on him he still finds ways to stop and change direction and find players like you wouldn’t believe,” said one scout. “He looked liked he’d already settled in this year by mid-October. He doesn’t just rely on his speed but he’s able to find ice for himself and that opens things up for plays.”

“I’m a high-tempo forward with a lot of speed, I love skating and using my players by passing to them and then following them up,” went Cogliano’s self assessment. “I think of myself as an offensive player but I’m capable of getting down low and doing defensive jobs. I think I’m a player that can be used in all situations and I have been used that way this year in college.”

“He really brings a lot of speed and he creates a lot of offensive chances with his speed and his hand skills,” said another scout. “He really keeps defensemen on their heels because they have to respect his speed; he can beat anybody wide. He can change gears and he has that extra gear he can go to when he needs to blow by somebody. He can make sharp turns and stop and change directions at an elite level.”

It will be interesting to see how long Cogliano stays in college hockey before he and the Oilers determine he is ready for the step up to the pro ranks. Certainly the speedy center will be back in school for his sophomore season, but beyond that is unknown. The Oilers already envision the possibilities of playing Cogliano and Schremp together, citing the latter’s passing skills and the former’s ability to find holes and blow past people as being a deadly combination.

Provided Cogliano’s development continues on its current arc, it would be hard to imagine the 18-year-old not turning pro before graduation day.

Cogliano Quotes

“I think he’s going to be one of their main guys. With his ability to score and the way he can use his speed he’ll be one of the go-to guys up front.”
–NCAA scout on Cogliano’s role for Canada at the World Junior Championships.

“The way Canada has picked their teams they’ve always tended to go more junior than college but these kids in the college ranks are used to playing against men. I don’t really see the skill level as being as good at the college level but that’s never been a question with Andrew. He can pass it, receive it and he certainly has vision and those are the three things that at the college level I don’t see the most.”
–NCAA area scout comparing Cogliano to most collegians.

“They’re both having good seasons and I feel a little bit that they might keep us together and that would be good if they did that in the next camp.”
–Cogliano when asked if playing alongside Pouliot and Latendresse was his preference.

“They’ll be a tough team but hopefully if I make the team, we can beat the States.”
–Cogliano on the pre-tournament favorites from the U.S.

“Flattering, but I think that’s in my grasp. I’m definitely not there right now obviously but if I work at it and I develop into that kind of mind frame I think I have the opportunity to be a player in that type of way. I definitely have lots to work on but I think I’m on the right path and if I keep on doing what I’m doing I think I’ll be in good shape.”
–Cogliano when asked if HF’s comparisons of him to Paul Kariya and Pavel Bure were fair.

“I have played a couple shifts here and there on the wing and in the summertime I was playing on the wing for a fair bit, but I think center is what I do best. The wing is also very good for me at times because I can use my speed to beat defensemen. I think I’m good on the wing or at center.”
–Talking about his versatility as a forward.

“I prefer the right side; I like coming down my off wing and taking that opposite wing shot.”
–His choice of wings.

“Definitely the young players like Raffi Torres or Ales Hemsky as well as the veterans like Pronger, Peca and Smyth. You can see that they definitely have a lot of skill and character. They’ve been one of the top organizations in the league since they started and to be a part of it is something special.”
–Cogliano’s comments when asked which current Oilers he would most like to play with.

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