The Evolution of Andrew Cogliano
Not even the Anaheim Ducks would have told you that coming into this season they expected to win the Pacific Division and finish as the second seed in the Western Conference. After a disappointing 2011-12 campaign that saw them sit 13th, expectations for this year would have been mild to say the least. The Ducks, however, boast plenty of talent and 2013 saw Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan bounce back from off years. Although these three and rookie goaltender Viktor Fasth, who burst onto the scene like Julie "The Cat" Gaffney, deserve much of the credit, the Ducks have also done a good job at improving their depth.
One such player who fills that type of role is Andrew Cogliano. After being a first round pick in the 2005 draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Cogliano failed to live up to expectations and was shipped to the Ducks prior to the 2011-12 season. He has seemed to have found a home in Anaheim by altering his game to become more of a role player, instead of trying to do too much and ultimately producing too little.
Cogliano had 24 goals and 50 points in 38 games for the University of Michigan in 2006-07 before making the jump to the pros. So it was reasonable to think the Oilers were getting a scorer and point producer. His first year in Edmonton saw 18 goals and 45 points which were solid for a rookie, but it was all down hill from there. Never again has he reached 40 points in a campaign.
Part of the challenge for any first round pick that doesn't quite turn out to be the offensive player that they were beforecoming to the NHL, is learning how to adapt. Many players in Cogliano's situation don't have the ability to change their game in the right ways to become a third liner, as opposed to a first. In college or juniors they probably never had to block shots or be strong defensively because of their offensive gifts. So learning those skills in the best league in the world is a real task.
Cogliano, however, seems to be one of those rare skaters to have figured things out. He has evolved into a reliable NHLer and has learned to contribute in other ways, as opposed to being relied on solely for his offense. The Ducks have also helped in the transition by using Cogliano in different areas to maximize his potential to help the team win. Much like Anaheim, poolies also need to start viewing him in a different light, if they haven't already. Instead of looking at his average offensive stats, owners should see an opportunity to scoop up a player that can help them in some less flashy categories. They should view him as a late round pick who can contribute to their team, instead of carry it.
For instance, Cogliano finished this season as a plus-14 which was a career high. It was only the second time he has ever completed a year with a plus rating, which is just one of the many signs of his improved defensive game. Another example would be his blocked shots which have gotten better even dating back to his time with the Oilers. In 2009-10 Cogliano was averaging a measly block every four games, but over the next three seasons he has upped that to one block every two games. He has also been a steady penalty killer and helped poolies out with two shorthanded goals in 2013.
The Ducks have utilized his improved play in these areas to make Cogliano a defensive forward on their squad with some offensive upside. This is a far cry from the way the Oilers were using him. In his last season in Edmonton, Cogliano averaged 17:15 of ice-time while playing the majority of his time with Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle. To some that may sound like a recipe for success, but if your skill set can't match the talent around you and the minutes you need to play, it can be a recipe for underachievement. Playing with this group usually meant seeing the opposition's top defensive pairing, which Cogliano's numbers show he couldn't handle.
In Anaheim this year his ice-time dropped by nearly two minutes per game, and with Getzlaf, Perry, and Ryan as a top unit occupying prominent opposing defenders, Cogliano got more favorable matchups. Not only that, but another subtle change helped his game as well. In 2013 Cogliano played nearly 45% of his shifts with Saku Koivu, compared to 2011-12 when it was just 16%. The importance of Koivu is evident when it comes to face-offs because that is not a strong area of Cogliano's game. Last season Cogliano took the fourth most draws on the team at 386, but this year he only took 92 which ranked eighth on the squad. Of course this year was only 48 games, but if you do the math for an 82-game campaign that equates to a 50% drop off in draws taken from 2011-12 to 2013. Koivu is a solid face-off man at 51.4%, which is far better than Cogliano's 34.8%, and winning draws gives their line more puck possession and time in the attacking zone.
The Ducks deserve much of the credit for Cogliano's transformation and the aforementioned face-off example is evidence of that. By giving him assistance on the draws, it has allowed him a little less responsibility and given Cogliano a chance to use his great skating ability for offense by playing more on the wing. He does have offensive talents, but just not to the degree of an elite NHL player. He has shown this year that in the right situation he can still be a threat to score. In this shortened season he equaled his goal total from last year with 13 and recorded his best shooting percentage since his rookie campaign at 16.5%.
One other factor to consider is the markets of the two teams Cogliano has spent time with. Edmonton is a hockey town and the pressure to perform there is far greater than it would be in Anaheim. That's perhaps why Getzlaf and Perry were so eager to sign long-term extensions and stick around in sunny California. Playing in a hockey hotbed and the expectations for a first round pick may have been something Cogliano just wasn't ready to deal with at such a young age.
It's ironic that Cogliano has become the very player that the Oilers need more of. A reliable forward that can add some depth to a team's bottom two lines is something they are sorely missing. Edmonton has plenty of top tier talent, but not enough players that do the little things to balance it out. Cogliano hasn't disappeared like other first round picks that didn't quite pan out. He has played in every game during his six NHL seasons and looks to be embarking on a new chapter of his hockey career. He probably will never be a great player, but Cogliano has figured out how to be a decent one.
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