The Top 25 Under 25 continues today with Andrew Cogliano. In the off-season, Cogliano was very nearly traded along with Dustin Penner and Ladislav Smid for Dany Heatley. Both Penner and Smid have responded with strong seasons when we consider what would have been expected from each of them. Cogliano has not. The boxcars do not tell the story of a scoring forward in his third professional season: 5-8-13 and -8 in 61 games played.
But it wasn't always this way. When Cogliano broke on to the NHL scene in 2007-08 there were good signs. He was quite obviously living a charmed life (three consecutive OT winners has a lot to do with lady luck) but there were reasons for optimism. He was only twenty years old and he was putting the puck in the net. His splits looked very good: 7-12-19 and -6 in his first 41 GP compared to 11-11-22 +7 in his second 41 GP. He was an excellent skater, used his speed to create offensive opportunities for himself and his linemates and he wasn't afraid to shoot the puck. shot the puck well. So what happened? Was that first season a mirage or are the hard times of this season just temporary? We'll take a look after the jump.
The discussion around Andrew Cogliano often boils down to two major issues: percentages and position. We'll deal with both in order. The first place I want to look are Cogliano's shooting rates and personal shooting percentages. To provide something of a base-line for his performance, I think it's a good idea to look at how efficient Cogliano was in college. We can't break the shot data up into game state like we can for his NHL numbers which should make his total college numbers (which include power play shots) so we'll want to nick his college numbers somewhat when we're talking about expectations for EV shooting in the NHL. In 2005-06 Cogliano scored 12 goals (5 EV, 5 PP, 2 SH) on 109 shots for a shooting percentage of 11.0%. In 2006-07 Cogliano scored 24 goals (19 EV, 4 PP, 1 SH) on 89 shots for a shooting percentage of 27.0%. This last number is, as you would hopefully expect, the highest on the team. The combined data is 36 goals on 198 shots for a shooting percentagage of 18.2% in his college career, a very good number. Below is a table of what he's done so far in the NHL:
So those early years, as we already kind of knew, were largely driven by luck. NHL players just don't sustain 20% shooting over their careers at EV. There is some chance that 2007-08 season is the highest percentage anyone has had since the lockout. It's certainly well up the charts. Cogliano's overall number for that year, 18.4% was actually driven down by his special teams play and is still the 47th highest overall number for one season since the lockout (min. 50 shots). The shooting corrected itself somewhat last year, though 14% at EV is still very high and this season (I know one game is missing, the script seems to have skipped one, but it's not going to make a huge difference) the percentage numbers fall down the elevator shaft.
On the other side of the coin, Cogliano is shooting more every season. HIs ice time has been pretty consistent year-over-year (within one and a half minutes per game all three years) so these extra shots reflect either a real upgrade in performance or a willingness to shoot from lower-percentage spots on the ice. It may well be some of both but I am certainly encouraged by that little piece of data.
The next area I wanted to look at are his on-ice numbers and they're presented below (click to enlarge):
From my perspective this shows good progress from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Cogliano may have scored slightly less but he was getting much better at moving the puck in the right direction. Looking at this year, things are either stagnant or he's taken a step back. Some of this is probably teammates (playing a lot with Moreau and Stortini), some probably role (a lot of time on the fourth line), some or it the context of his ice time (this is his first season with more DZ than OZ draws). Some of it is of course Cogliano's own performance. Looking at this chart, I can't help but think that Andrew Cogliano is missing Craig MacTavish. Despite crowing to the contrary, MacTavish was IMO very good at developing players. He usually found a place for them to succeed and brought them along slowly, waiting for them to prove they were ready for more responsibility. Quinn's method seems a bit more random. It seems like there is very little consideration given to the context of ice time and putting young players in a position to have success (Taylor Chorney has the most difficult faceoff ratio among defenders in the entire NHL for guys with 20 games or more; why would you ever do that?). MacTavish wasn't perfect and he made some goofy choices last season but he was miles better than what we have now.
The other thing I wanted to talk about is Cogliano's position. His skills seem like they're more suited to a winger than they are a centerman. Derek has shown in the past that the guy can't take draws at an NHL level and to my eye he's not as defensively aware as you'd like a centerman to be anyway. On top of that, he's going to be, at best, the third best center on the club for the next several years (behind Horcoff and Gagner). On the other hand, the Oilers are, for the moment, very weak on the wings, especially the left side (Cogliano shoots left). That he hasn't been moved to the wing is... well... frustrating.
And that brings me to Jim Matheson's article where he suggested "turn[ing] Cogliano, one of the game's five fastest skaters, into an indispensable checker, a super-pest, a penalty-killer and a good faceoff man, just like [Todd] Marchant." This is not going to work. I don't know that there are too many players who go from a 40% faceoff guy to a 60% faceoff guy. Some of those other things could and should be learned. It would be great if Cogliano played with some edge (although I've never really thought of Marchant as a super-pest), knew where to be in the defensive zone and PK'ed well. But, as far as I'm concerned, he really shouldn't be learning those things as a centerman. And trying to force him into it just wouldn't work. Cogliano took some flack for his response to this suggestion but if he's serious about wanting to be "a top-six player" he should be chomping at the bit to move over to the wing.
So, am I optimistic about Cogliano's chances? I am, actually. He was developing well through two seasons. That things have come crashing down somewhat in his third shouldn't mean he's done as a prospect. I think it's likely that he gets moved to the wing eventually, either here in Edmonton or further down the line, and I think he'll be effective there. If this is Pat Quinn's last season (let it be so) there's a chance that the new coach will be able to get Cogliano back into a position to have success.