With all eyes on Shane Wright as the Montreal Canadiens wallow at the bottom of the NHL standings, both the Canadiens and fans have to be prepared for the chance that the ping pong balls don’t bounce their way. While Wright is an incredible talent in his own right, it doesn’t mean there aren’t incredibly talented options right behind him on the draft board.
For example, the University of Minnesota commit Logan Cooley, who is currently part of a powerhouse USA U-18 squad.
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Date of Birth: May 4, 2004
Weight: 174 lbs.
Team: U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP)
Cooley will be leaving as part of a strong class of USNTDP graduates, and after initially choosing Notre Dame as his NCAA destination, Cooley decommitted and opted for the University of Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are coming off an extremely strong season and will have a strong incoming class alongside Cooley coming in for the 2022-2023 season.
When it comes to Cooley his strengths aren’t hard to identify. The American centre is one of the premiere two-way pivots in this draft class, rivaling Wright in the eyes of some in the scouting community. Cooley reads the game extremely well, allowing him to run the show in the offensive zone, but also drop back and cover for his defencemen if they choose to activate into the play with the puck. His vision allows him to see plays develop with ease and execute clean zone exits.
That same vision benefits Cooley when he sets up his station of operation inside the offensive zone. He always appears to be a step ahead, and with his great anticipation, his playmaking skills get a chance to shine as he puts pucks in spots many people cannot. He delivers pucks crisply on the tape with a high level of skill, and while there is always some risk of trying those types of plays, Cooley makes them seem like second nature regularly.
What really helps to tie together Cooley’s game is that he’s a fantastic skater, able to utilize an explosive stride to create space. In just a few quick strides, Cooley is able to blow by defenders as he exits his own zone and then pairs that with his playmaking skill to find his teammates to continue the attack.
While Cooley presents the profile of burgeoning offensive talent, his skills don’t stop outside of that zone. His ability to read plays applies to the defensive zone as well. He does well reading the incoming attack and creating chances to strip his opponents of the puck. Not only that, when covering for pinching teammates Cooley can more than hold his own until he can reactivate and retrieve pucks deep in the offensive zone.
To put a cherry on top of it all, he thrives in the faceoff dot, making him an invaluable penalty killer and power-play operator. It isn’t hard to see why Cooley landed at the top of many draft boards. With a total skill set like he has, it’s a great consolation prize to Wright.
It’s hard to identify a singular weakness in the game of a player like Cooley. He plays well in all three zones, can score, and distributes the puck equally well. As he transitions to the NCAA and to professional hockey, Cooley will look to add some size so he can continue to play his own style of game unimpeded.
While his skating is already strong, a few small tweaks can help bring it to another level and though not technically a fundamental weakness, there’s no guarantee that Cooley will step right into the NHL as Wright might. For a team like the Canadiens looking to incorporate young stars quickly, this would very likely impact that course of action.
Elite Prospects: #5
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #2
NHL Central Scouting: #2 (European Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #3
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #5
While final rankings are still trickling in one thing is clear, Cooley isn’t going to wait long to hear his name called in Montreal. Obviously, Wright stands as the top centre and overall player in the draft, but it would be unwise to sleep on the talents of Cooley as well.
As it stands, the Canadiens have the top chance at grabbing Wright, but should they fall out of the first overall spot there’s another strong two-way centre waiting for them. With his versatility in all three zones, strong skating ability and a hockey IQ off the charts, Cooley could very easily fill a spot behind Nick Suzuki in the Montreal lineup.
As we watch through the above video, Cooley impressively anticipates where the puck is going to be, and even once he receives the puck he has his next route of attack already planned out. His manipulation of defenders to gain space, either as a shooter or to create passing space, is impressive and is exactly the kind of skill the Canadiens need in the lineup.
The good news for the Habs is that if they don’t draft first overall there’s a large number of talented pieces at multiple positions available. If they’re looking for a centre (and they certainly should be) Logan Cooley is right there for the taking and even if it takes an extra year to reach the professional level his talent is well worth the wait.