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Logan Cooley sets record straight on his immediate, long-term future with Coyotes

Craig Morgan Avatar
July 5, 2023

Logan Cooley has been the victim of rampant speculation ever since the Coyotes proposed arena in Tempe went down in flames at the ballot box. He unwittingly fanned those flames when I asked him on a conference call in May if his decision to return to the University of Minnesota for his sophomore season was impacted by that ill-fated Tempe vote.

Once that decision became public, the assumptions and leaps of logic ran wild. NHL GMs quietly started probing the Cooley camp to see if the 2022 No. 3 overall pick might be available in a trade. Some analysts wondered if Cooley might stay all four years at Minnesota to allow him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with another team. Fans of other teams even tweeted trade proposals, most of them so ridiculous and naïve that they got ratioed by Coyotes fans.

After he took the ice for the first time at development camp on Tuesday at the Ice Den Scottsdale, Cooley addressed the furor with good humor and candor; proof positive of a player already accustomed to living in the media spotlight.

“There’s not a chance,” he said, laughing. “It’s not my goal to stay in college for four years and become a free agent, that’s for sure. There’s definitely nothing to that. I don’t want to get traded or anything like that.

“Obviously, when you go back to school, everyone’s gonna start speculating about you doing one thing or the other, but no, I’m just focused on becoming a better player and playing for the Coyotes.”

When asked again about the Tempe vote’s impact on his decision, Cooley elaborated.

“It wasn’t only that,” he said. “I’m pretty sure everyone would have liked to see that go through. It was such a beautiful arena that they were supposed to be building, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really change much. Ice is ice.

“There’s still some things I want to accomplish in college before I make the step to the NHL. I’d say the arena played a little factor, but it wasn’t do or die like I’m not coming or anything like that. It’s more that there’s some things I want to accomplish in my game and obviously, falling short of the national championship is one of them because we got so close so it was pretty unfortunate.”

Cooley isn’t sure why his decision to return for a second year caused such a fuss. His linemate, Jimmy Snuggerud, made the same decision to return to the Golden Gophers, who lost to Quinnipiac, 3-2 in overtime, in the national championship game.

“Cale Makar played two years of college. Matt Boldy played two years. Matty Beniers played two years,” Cooley said. “I’m sure some guys are ready after year one, but when I step into the league I don’t just want to be ready. I want to be an impactful player. I want to be as prepared as possible.”

Cooley was spectacular in his freshman season, finishing tied for first in the NCAA with 38 assists in 39 games, and finishing second in points (60) to 2023 third overall pick Adam Fantilli. Minnesota coach Bob Motzko sees an even bigger role and more room for growth in Cooley’s second collegiate season.

“There’s no question that there are some steps that these players take when they go from their freshman year to their sophomore year to their junior year,” Motzko said. “The list is long of highly successful hockey players that play two and three years of college hockey. It far outnumbers the one-and-dones. 

“TJ Oshie played three years. Jonathan Toews played two. I can just keep going because it is a massive list of kids whose development was better suited to staying before their next step to the National Hockey League. It’s just part of the process. And if you’re having a blast doing it in the college environment with a successful group of players, it’s all the more rewarding.”

At 5 feet 10, 181 pounds, Cooley needs to add strength and power to his game; an opportunity that a Big Ten school’s facilities will afford in spades. But he also has areas of his game on which he wants to work.

“I think I can work on defensive awareness; always keeping your head on a swivel, knowing where your guy’s at who doesn’t have the puck,” he said. “Playing good defense leads to offense.”

Cooley will also have to refine a skill that is much more difficult to refine at the college level. It was clear in 2022-23 that his stick skills and shiftiness allowed him to do almost whatever he wanted with the puck. That meant taking a lot of chances in the neutral zone or at the offensive blue. Sometimes, those risks lead to turnovers. If that happens in the NHL, it will lead to odd-man rushes the other way, goals, and maybe even a benching from his coach.

“One great thing about our level with the younger players is just letting them go,” Motzko said.  “A few turnovers here and there are going to happen. He’s got to learn what he can get away vs. being so demanding all the time on a young player and limiting their skills.

“They will learn on their own what they can get away with, how they can change the game, how they can put a team on their back. Of course, every coach will tell you that turnovers are detrimental no matter what sport you are playing, but young talented players need to learn that and see how they respond to it.”

The Coyotes want to see Cooley implement defensive lessons into his game this season.

“It’s going to be challenging for him — because he plays on a good team and he has the puck so much — to really take ownership of doing that stuff himself and be held accountable to his coaching staff and himself,” Coyotes director of player development Lee Stempniak said. “He’s so good at that level that he’s not just naturally put in those positions where he has to defend.”

The same goes for puck management.

“It’s a fine line with puck management,” Stempniak said. “You never want to stifle someone’s creativity. I tend to look at it as a risk-reward situation. If it’s a one-on-two and you beat the first guy, it’s still a one-on-one. Is that worth the risk? Probably not. If it’s a two-on-two and you have a favorable gap where you can beat that guy to create a two-on-two, then that’s probably a risk I’d like him to take. It’s risk management. It’s: What’s the upside on this potential play? 

“I also look at it as cutting his losses on potential plays. He’s very competitive so up until he can’t make the play he thinks he can make the play so he’s never cutting his losses. He needs to learn how he can avoid making a play and taking a big hit for no reason. It all ties into decision making but again, with a player of Logan’s caliber, you draft him for his offensive mind and how he processes the game so you hate to harness that. To me, he’s at his best when he takes what the defense gives him.” 

Once Cooley completes development camp on Friday, he plans to return back home to Pittsburgh, take a few days off, play some golf and then start training. 

“If I do end up going back to school at the beginning of next season, when World Junior time comes around, I’m most likely going to play in the World Juniors; I’m just not going to camp this summer,” Cooley said. “Winning a gold medal is one of the reasons I’d want to go back. We came close last year, but taking bronze is not exactly what I wanted. I’d want to win a gold medal for my country.”

The start of that quote — If I do end up going back to school — also warranted elaboration.

“For right now, I’m on track for going back and helping Minnesota win a national championship and continuing to grow my game,” he said. “But I’m still gonna evaluate some things. I don’t want the media to go crazy thinking that I’m not going back to school, but there’s a little bit of thought to put into it.”

Top photo of Logan Cooley via Getty Images

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