We’re just over two weeks from the NHL Draft, which will take place on July 7 in Montreal. As most know by now, the New Jersey Devils hold the second overall pick, which they won after moving up three spots in the draft lottery. Barring something unforeseen, the odds are high that the Devils will make the selection rather than trade it.
When picking in the top two, there aren’t many players worth drafting. In the first of what will be a three-part mini-series reviewing the top prospects worth the second overall pick in this draft, we’ll be looking at Logan Cooley, the top-ranked American. Let’s dive into what makes him a highly-touted prospect and why he could be a fit for the Devils with the second pick.
Cooley Fits Devils’ Style of Play
Cooley is about as close to a consensus second overall pick as there is in this year’s draft, at least in public rankings. There’s good reason for that, as he had 27 goals and 75 points in 51 games with the U.S. National U18 Team with the United States Development Program (USDP) and 13 goals and 36 points in 24 games with the USNTDP in the United States Hockey League (USHL). He also impressed in international play, totaling 10 points in six games with Team USA at the U18 World Junior Championships.
What makes Cooley so intriguing is his dynamic skating. He excels in transition and is a treat to watch in the neutral zone when he’s on the rush. For Devils fans who have watched Jack Hughes or Jesper Bratt over the last couple of seasons, specifically in 2021-22, think of them when it comes to Cooley’s skating and transition play. He’s not as dynamic as Bratt or Hughes, but once he gets the puck on his stick and skates through the neutral zone with speed, he makes plays.
For a Devils team that likes to play off the rush, it’s easy to see why Cooley would be a fit with the second overall pick, but it’s not just about his rush game. Once in the offensive zone, he uses his smarts and playmaking ability to create scoring chances. Sometimes, Cooley tries to do too much when in the offensive zone, but the skill is undeniable. As he continues to develop, he’ll eventually learn what works and what doesn’t once the level of competition ramps up. But nobody should be trying to coach out of him what he can do offensively. Here’s a good reason why:
Though any team in the top three of the draft would be selecting Cooley for his offensive upside, he’s also a responsible defensive center. A big reason for that is also because of his transition game. Once he gets the puck on his stick in the defensive zone, it’s off and away to get the attack started, as you’ll see in Will Scouch’s video at the end of this article. With Cooley lining up behind Hughes and Nico Hischier for the first few years of his career, teams will have trouble containing the Devils.
Why the Devils Should Consider Cooley
With Hughes and Hischier set to be the Devils’ top two centers for almost the next decade, it may be hard to see where Cooley fits in long-term. The Devils also have Dawson Mercer, who could be a center if he doesn’t settle in as a right wing, and Jesper Boqvist, who made his case to remain a center instead of a winger with his play to end the 2021-22 season.
However, when looking at Scott Wheeler’s midseason rankings of the Devils’ farm system, only Samu Salminen is a true center among the team’s top 10 prospects. (From “Wheeler’s 2022 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 4 New Jersey Devils” – The Athletic, 2/7/2022). There is Tyce Thompson, who projects as more of a winger in the NHL, but is capable of playing center as well.
After Thompson and Salminen, the Devils don’t have great center depth in their pipeline. The team’s best prospects up front — Alexander Holtz, Arseni Gritsyuk, Nolan Foote, Fabian Zetterlund, Graeme Clarke, Thompson — are all wingers. Some of that is a product of Mercer and Boqvist graduating full-time to the NHL, but some of it is because they haven’t drafted many high-end centers since taking Hughes in 2019.
In Cooley’s case, the Devils drafting him would be similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins model when they selected Jordan Staal second overall in 2006 to pair up with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, who they drafted with the first overall picks in the prior two drafts. The Devils would have a similar build with Cooley, Hischier and Hughes down the middle, with Cooley as their third-line center for the first few years of his career. The Penguins ended up getting a Stanley Cup championship with that build. And it’s not like they needed Staal at the time; they just took the best player available.
Yes, the Penguins ended up trading Staal, but every situation is different. By the time Cooley needs a payday, it’ll be four years from now in 2026, assuming he stays committed to Minnesota for 2022-23 and doesn’t play in the NHL right away, and with a much higher salary cap ceiling than when the Penguins traded Staal. The Devils can worry about that payday when the time comes.
What Others Are Saying About Cooley
“High-end Minnesota commit combines speed and smarts to create turnovers and burn opponents with his offensive prowess. Still has some growing to do and scouts anticipate another pop in his skating once he does.” – Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News
“Other than his below-average size, there aren’t any real holes in Cooley’s game, and he might just be the most dynamic offensive weapon from this class when all is said and done.” – Dobber Prospects, Final 2022 NHL Draft Rankings
“[Cooley] is confident enough to attempt and often execute the unthinkable. Plays with pace and skill and is a fierce competitor.” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
Cosentino also describes Cooley as an elite talent who’s a threat to produce offense every time he hits the ice and that he could be a cornerstone addition who becomes a franchise player for the team that drafts him.
“There are not many weaknesses to Cooley’s game as he is as well-rounded as they come. The only thing that may hold him back is his size, but even that shouldn’t matter too much when he makes it to the NHL. He’s just too smart and shifty to have that be the thing that holds him back. Throw in his work ethic and never-quit mentality, and his lack of size should be rendered almost moot when it comes to being a weakness.” – Matthew Zator, The Hockey Writers
Cooley in the Mix
Cooley is more than a reasonable choice for the Devils with the second overall pick. It’ll likely come down to how they view their setup at center for the next three to five-plus years. Is Boqvist their long-term solution as a third-line center? What about Mercer? Will he settle in as a right wing alongside Hughes as he did for much of the second half of 2021-22? Or is he also a center?
You can’t fault the Devils for wanting to take Juraj Slafkovsky with the second overall pick because he’s more of a need and has plenty of upside too. But don’t count out Cooley, either, because when looking back at the 2022 draft five years from now, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he turns out to be the best player from the class.
Logan Cooley Video
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Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017