The Analysis: Logan Cooley is one of the 2022 draft’s top prospects for a reason
In recent years, the US National Team Development Program has consistently elevated impact young players to high draft slots in the NHL Draft.
Trevor Zegras, a nominee for the NHL rookie of the year and Matty Beniers, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and one of the NHL’s top prospects, are both recent graduates of the USNTDP whose footsteps Logan Cooley looks to be following in.
While his World Junior Championship tournament this year was cut short because of COVID-19 concerns, his somewhat surprising addition to the team as a 17-year-old is an impressive feat nonetheless, becoming the first underage forward to even crack the team since Jack Hughes in 2019.
Unlike fellow top 2022 prospects Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, or Brad Lambert, Cooley was rather unheralded coming into the season and has emerged in such a strong way this season thanks to his strong two-way game as well as elite production despite a rotating cast of linemates.
Cooley is committed to the University of Minnesota beginning next season, but if his elite two-way play and strong results can carry over to next season, he might be contending for a center spot in an NHL lineup sooner rather than later.
Cooley, a native of Pittsburgh, is a graduate of Sidney Crosby’s Little Penguins program.
And you can see shades of the Penguins superstar in Cooley’s game, from his attention to detail in all three zones to his stickhandling ability in tight spaces.
Centers in the modern NHL aren’t often top of the lineup options at Cooley’s current size, just 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, but he has the high energy level and skating ability to overcome that obstacle and become an offensive engine at the next level.
While he has produced everywhere he has gone, Cooley wasn’t originally considered one of the squad’s leading stars when he first joined the NTDP in the fall of 2020. However, his versatility and production throughout the season continually moved him up the lineup, culminating with him earning a permanent call-up to the U18 team midway through last season.
His profile has only gone up with his consistently excellent play throughout this year, as he was originally committed to a lower-ranked team in Notre Dame but earned an offer letter to one of the NCAA’s elite teams in Minnesota, where he’ll have the opportunity to be the centerpiece of a talented roster filled with fellow top NHL prospects.
Cooley’s speed and effort in all three zones is immediately apparent when you watch him, with elite short-area quickness and a relentless motor that allows him to take full advantage of his high-end awareness by constantly being around the puck.
He has a quick and powerful first step, giving him excellent short-area quickness and the ability to win puck races and gain separation from a stopped stance. He has strong posture and width in his stance that allows him to maximize his stride length and knee bend, generating a near-elite top speed and suggesting more explosiveness and speed to come in the future with added lower-body strength.
This is a good example of Cooley, No. 18, using his quick feet and low stance to maximize his first few steps and gain separation on a backchecker despite starting from a standing position. He uses linear crossovers to build speed through the neutral zone, gaining a comfortable zone entry.
He’s a dynamic skater, featuring a low, strong base and long, powerful strides that make him tough to knock off the puck and make him a threat in open ice with his top speed. He has quick, smooth footwork and accelerates quickly from a stop, allowing him to check opponents closely in his own end and make lateral moves to beat a defender in open ice.
Cooley can be a difference-maker with his closing speed and tenacity in puck pursuit. While he doesn’t possess ideal size for a centre in the NHL, Cooley’s tracking habits on the defensive side and ability to quickly transition to the offensive rush makes him a dangerous presence whenever he’s on the ice.
In this clip, Cooley takes a perfect route to the puck-carrier to force an errant pass that’s intercepted by a teammate. His first few steps into linear crossovers generate great power and speed, giving him plenty of space to create a 2-on-1 chance the other way.
Cooley displays great anticipation tracking the puck away from the play, making up for aggressive offensive decisions with great hustle on the backcheck and the awareness to cut off passing lanes off the rush.
Here, he gets trapped deep in the offensive zone but tracks back nearly the whole rink to steal the puck in a dangerous shooting spot on an odd-man chance, leading to a counter-attack with numbers for Team USA.
Cooley doesn’t possess elite, breakaway speed at his top end, but his acceleration, tenacity, and strong base make him extremely strong on his feet and a high-pace player who can make impressive plays at full speed.
HOCKEY IQ AND AWARENESS
Cooley is a very smart player who can be effective down the middle at both ends of the ice. Offensively, he displays strong poise with the puck and uses his low center of gravity and strong base to fight off physical contact while scanning for passing lanes.
His feet are constantly moving in the offensive end, finding open areas to provide a passing option and attacking the middle lane consistently.
This sequence from the BioSteel All American Game shows off Cooley’s stickhandling abilities, as he feathers a saucer pass to the point, attacks the middle lane to provide an outlet, then finds open ice to receive a pass and makes a nice move in front that leads to a goal for Team White.
Cooley’s poise with the puck is impressive and utilizes quick cuts through traffic and curl back moves to create space once he gains the offensive blue line. In both of these plays, Cooley’s patience in transition and once he’s under pressure leads directly to offensive zone setups for his team.
And here, some nifty hands at the blue line and a quick cut against the grain draws both the near-side and weak-side defender to the middle to defend Cooley, which opens a clean lane for his linemate and he sneaks a pass through for a primary assist.
Defensively, Cooley is consistently the first forward back to support his defenders and doesn’t waste time when he is able to turn the puck over, making quick outlets to escape pressure and move the puck efficiently out of the defensive zone.
He angles opponents towards the outside very effectively, using his agile skating and active stick to close gaps and cut off passing lane options to the middle of the ice. While he’s not the biggest or heaviest player, he uses his low center of gravity and powerful stride to angle opponents towards the boards and win body position.
In this clip, Cooley loses body position but uses his strength to steal the puck along the wall, then makes a quick pass under pressure to space that leads to an easy breakout.
His awareness and anticipation in all three zones helps him make an impact on the play on nearly every shift, and his commitment to supporting his own defenders off the puck makes him a relatively safe bet to stick at center in the NHL despite his below-average size.
Cooley is poised with the puck and has the confidence to dart through traffic in transition thanks to his elite edges and quick hands. His agility allows him to make defenders miss in open ice and he has the vision to create space for his linemates by cutting against traffic or curling back on the rush.
The above and below are examples of Cooley using edgework and quick decision-making with the puck to lose a check or manipulate defenders into crossing their feet over and giving him a window to blow past them.
Cooley’s speed and vision in transition make him a monster at creating chances and attacking the middle of the ice with constant pressure. He constantly has his feet moving and his anticipation and agility allow him to maneuver through traffic effectively and gain the offensive zone with control more often than not.
While his speed and puck skills allow him to consistently generate offense off of rush chances, his agility and creativity under pressure also make him tough to check inside the offensive zone. He’s fearless stickhandling into traffic, shaking off physical play with his strong edges and using his hands to drive the puck towards the middle of the ice.
Cooley makes multiple opponents miss on this play with a slick move on a zone entry, then uses a quick cut to the middle to open up a clean shooting lane that allows him to get a tough shot on net despite nearly taking a big hit in the process.
Cooley’s tenacity on the puck and ability to anticipate the play helps him engage in and win physical battles all over the ice, despite his size and build being unusual for centres in the NHL.
His stride power and low centre of gravity help him in physical battles and he isn’t afraid to use his leverage to make plays along the wall and move the puck to open teammates under heavy pressure.
His tenacity and anticipation are particularly effective on the forecheck, where he can use his quick change of direction abilities and leverage to force turnovers and cause chaos in the offensive and neutral zones.
Here, Cooley’s agility and strength are on full display, as he forces a turnover and nearly creates a rush chance for USA.
Even without the ability to muscle opponents off the puck — which he’ll be less likely to be able to do consistently the NCAA level and eventually the NHL level — Cooley’s stick skills and anticipation make him a formidable player off the puck. His intensity and consistent high pace could eventually make him an effective two-way force with the ability to match up against other team’s top scoring options.
His active stick and tendency to push the pace of play in transition are seen in this clip, and Cooley’s vision and creativity are shown at the end of the clip when he nearly gets a blind pass to a teammate for a breakaway chance.
Cooley’s draft stock has soared throughout the 2021-22 season, culminating with him being an industry-wide favourite to be the first player drafted after Wright in June. Some even see Wright’s status as wire-to-wire favourite to be the first pick in jeopardy due to very strong seasons from Cooley and fellow 2022 top prospect Juraj Slafkovsky.
Despite what type of center prospect has been historically favoured near the top of the draft, Cooley has proven he can fill the demands of the position at both ends of the ice, matching up with the opponent’s best all season long and ramping up his offensive production in the second half of the season — culminating in a fantastic World Under-18 Championship run that ended in an upset loss to Sweden in the gold medal game.
Cooley’s size might be a sticking point for some, but his impressive performance at the NHL Combine, including multiple events with top-10 finishes, further proves Cooley’s high work rate and physical prowess.
Montreal, the holders of the first pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, are likely zeroing in on the exceptional Wright with their slot now confirmed, but Cooley’s status as the next-best available center with true top-six potential could make him the very next player taken off the board in June.