February 26, 2024

Cooley ‘only going to continue to get better’ for Coyotes

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Some NHL prospects gauge their progress in months or years, games played or goals scored.

Logan Cooley measures his in feet.

The Arizona Coyotes center was one of the elite scorers in NCAA hockey last season, one goal from winning the Frozen Four with Minnesota. Selected by the Coyotes with the No. 3 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, Cooley might be their most exciting scoring prospect since they drafted forward Clayton Keller in 2016.

Though scoring goals may get a player to the NHL, it won’t necessarily keep him there long-term. That’s why the 19-year-old is laser-focused this offseason on improving his puck management skills and becoming more of a two-way player.

Inch by inch, foot by foot.

“I’m a lot more experienced, I’ve put some weight on, I’ve continued to grow my 200-foot game,” Cooley said. “That’s a big thing, you know, especially at the NHL level, so I’m happy with where I’m at right now. And I’m only going to continue to get better from here.”

Or until he considers himself ready to play all 200 feet on every shift.

Cooley was good enough as a collegiate freshman to have 60 points (22 goals, 38 points) in 39 games for NCAA runner-up Minnesota, finishing second in the nation in scoring to Michigan forward Adam Fantilli, the No. 3 pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2023 NHL Draft. Cooley also was the leading scorer (14 points; seven goals, seven assists in seven games) for the United States in the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, second in the tournament to Canada center Connor Bedard (23 points; nine goals, 14 assists), selected by the Chicago Blackhawks with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft.

When Cooley took part in the Coyotes’ development camp last month, he was focused on returning to Minnesota for a second season. But after several weeks of contemplation, and talking with Keller and others, he shifted gears and signed a three-year entry-level contract with Arizona on Thursday.

“Obviously if you’re a hockey player, it’s your goal to play in the NHL and that was my dream,” Cooley said. “I want to play at the highest level I can. I want to be pushed every day. I want to play with the best, and honestly, I’m just super excited for the future of the Arizona Coyotes and the direction they’re going. I can’t wait to get going.”

Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong said he can see a big difference from a year ago in Cooley and forward Conor Geekie, the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft, who played for Winnipeg of the Western Hockey League last season.

“They’re really driven hockey players who come in every year and get a little better, gain a little more,” Armstrong said. “Both played great, meaningful games down the stretch, intense, and you’re going to see a different player when they take the ice a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger. We’re really happy with their seasons and where they’ve grown to.”

Video: Logan Cooley agrees to a three-year deal with Coyotes

Armstrong said he has high hopes for Cooley in particular.

“[Cooley] is one of our best players,” Armstrong told NHL.com on July 20. “He had some star quality moments in (development) camp for us like he had in Minnesota. He’s got a game that’s unique in the sense of his compete, his high energy and high skill. I have a feeling in my in my heart that that he’s ready to play in the National Hockey League. That’s my personal opinion, but I do believe he’s ready.”

Cooley grew up in suburban Pittsburgh closely fashioning his game not after Penguins icons Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr or Mario Lemieux, but rather Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin — even though his introduction to hockey came as a 4-year-old in Crosby’s first Pittsburgh youth hockey program in 2008. 

He has scored at every level since then, including nine goals in 12 games during the past two world junior championships, and he had 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games as a 17-year-old for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in 2021-22.

Cooley will report to Arizona training camp in September with an excellent chance of making their season-opening roster. 

“Everyone has their different ways to making it to the NHL,” he said. “I want to play at quick as possible, [but] I want to be coming in and being an impactful player. 

“I know it’s a hard league, and I want to be the most prepared I can be.”

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