Earlier this week we talked about "comparables." This is the second installment, devoted to Andrew Cogliano. We’re looking for smallish, fleet centermen with offensive ability from the past (and perhaps late developing ability on the southside of the puck) in order to see how this might turn out. We’re look through the black and whites to see the future.
The best player I ever saw skate for the Leafs was Dave Keon. If you look at his stats and never saw him play it might be a mystery. Dave Keon was an amazing skater, and because of it was a splendid forechecker and an out-of-this-world penalty killer. On April 13, 1963 Dave Keon became the first player to score two shorthanded goals in a playoff game. Keon had an amazing backhand and could pass and make a pass on the fly with stunning consistency. He was, in many ways, the perfect player.
I always loved to watch Keon penalty kill. He was so fast and read plays so well that teams often had a terrible time getting out of their own end. Keon was also textbook when it came to bodychecking. A small player (even for his era), Keon completed his checks and made certain that his mark was not an available option for those very important seconds after a pass. I remember seeing him do that to both defenders on the penalty kill and still being able to get back in time to make plays in his own zone. He was a beauty.
When I saw Andrew Cogliano for the first time, it reminded me of Keon and Butch Goring and what my father told me about Ralph Backstrom (I remember Backstrom but not at his peak). Undersized centermen with speed to burn and enough offense to deliver 20+ goals a season. However, their ability to play a strong 2-way game and penalty kill the other team’s best to a standstill made them vital to their teams. Extremely valuable players.
What I’ve seen from Andrew Cogliano since he arrived in the NHL is a player who seems to be running in place with regard to the finer points of the game (specifically away from the puck). So, despite his wonderful interviews of late that indicate the "light" is on in regard to his 2-way role, we must also look at a "one dimensional" types as well. There are tons over the decades, here are 4 examples:
- Wayne Dillon: Talented mid-70’s center started well but lost his offense in year three and faded from the NHL. First round pick in 1975. 441 NHL/WHA games.
- Bobby Sheehan: There are precious few undersized C who score at Cogliano’s rate and have long NHL careers. Sheehan was a bullet–as fast as Courneyer–and had a nice pro career that included a year plus a little with the WHA Oilers. 551 NHL/WHA games.
- Nigel Dawes: A solid offensive winger who has developed into a useful talent. Has played for 3 NHL teams in two seasons and needs to improve play without the puck. A strong comp for Cogs should he not develop 2-way ability. 199 NHL games and counting.
- Dean McAmmond: Speed burner who has developed over the years into a reliable 2-way player. His 186 goals over 17 NHL seasons include just one 20-goal season but ten seasons with totals between 10 and 19. He’s not great, but he’s consistent. 996 NHL games.
Between 1990 and 2004, there were 75 forwards who performed between .43 and .49 per game in their first three NHL seasons (Cogliano was .451). They range from Radim Vrbata to Maxim Afinogenov, and there are names like Dixon Ward, Bill Muckalt and Rob Pearson. There ARE solid NHL players, but they all brought size or could check a little or a lot. In other words, the players who hit for the same average as Cogliano during their first three seasons could be divided into two groups: offense-first players who didn’t deliver enough offense to clearly establish themselves, and became journeymen; and the second group which included Powerforwards like Bertuzzi and 2-way players like Dvorak. Cogliano needs another pitch, and it sounds like he’s reached that conclusion heading into this fall’s training camp.
We can agree that Ethan Moreau wasn’t helping a season ago and it is also true that Cogliano has paid in full for that season with a 1-year, $1M contract. Listening to Bob Stauffer’s show today it is very obvious the young man has matured and is willing to take on roles that will give him more playing time and make him more important to the overall success of the team. That could be the most important development for Cogliano since he arrived in Edmonton.
Andrew Cogliano has the kind of speed that won’t slump on the forecheck, or the penalty kill, or any situation that requires putting pressure on the opposing player. Add the fact that he does deliver offense (Cogliano’s NHL totals per 82gp: 15-22-37; that’s solid offense, although shy of Sam Gagner’s 16-32-48). This could be a brand new day, although the comparables I’ve mentioned in the past for Cogs no longer seem reachable.
Remember that comment making the rounds after Cogliano was drafted? "Marchant with hands?" Or what about Red Berenson, who said "he’s kind of a cross between Todd Marchant and Dave Keon. A great skater, a tireless worker and a player who has a knack around the net and has good hands."
The fact is that Andrew Cogliano could have an extremely productive career without being "Marchant with Hands." The Oilers would welcome "Marchant full stop" from Andrew Cogliano beginning this fall. He certainly has many of the raw skills required to play the style that brought so much success to Marchant. I guess the question is how much of that 2-way and faceoff ability can be learned and how much can’t be taught. I expect we’re about to find out.