EDMONTON – Edmonton Oilers forward Andrew Cogliano had little to show for his first 20 games this season aside from dogged displays of determination to persevere through the most trying start of his NHL career.
Amid the buzz created by the arrival of rookies Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi with the rebuilding Oilers, Cogliano is in the midst of reinventing himself as a third-line, two-way centre and penalty-killer.
It’s been a difficult transition.
But Cogliano finally had something go his way against Colorado at Rexall Place on Thursday as he ended a confidence-sapping streak that had seen him go 11 games without a goal in a 3-2 win over the Avalanche.
A sliver of success, at last.
“I can’t even count the times this year players or coaches have come up to me and said I had a great game, but I had nothing to show for it,” Cogliano said. “That’s tough.
“It’s tough because when you’re trying so hard and things don’t go in, people outside the team, fans, look at the numbers. They want results.”
After scoring 36 goals in his first two seasons, then slumping to 10 goals in 2009-10, Cogliano has been bumped down the depth chart to the third line with coach Tom Renney trying to figure out where everybody fits.
Drafted 25th overall in 2005, the 23-year-old from Toronto scored just his second goal of the season against Colorado, giving him just five points after 21 games. Despite a plus-2 rating Thursday, he’s still minus-9 overall, tied for worst on the team.
“There’s a physical part I have to add. I feel like I’ve done that,” Cogliano said. “It’s not going to come overnight. It’s a work in progress.
“I’m playing the penalty kill this year. I feel I’ve been effective. I feel more confident in that. I don’t think my plus-minus shows how much more defensively aware I am.”
Cogliano allowed himself a grin after the win over Colorado, even though his face was aching.
He’s playing with a full face-shield after taking a deflected shot on the jaw in a 5-0 loss to Phoenix on Nov. 23. The way Cogliano’s luck has been, the puck deflected off his chin then off the crossbar. No goal and no break, just a severe bruise and seven stitches.
Cogliano had his upper lip split open by a Joni Pitkanen high stick in a game against Carolina Nov. 9. He also broke his nose in an altercation with Scott Nichol of San Jose on Oct. 23.
“He certainly hasn’t ever taken a day off,” Renney said. “He’s also a guy now who is processing the game as quickly as he can skate it. That’s important because some people can’t do that.
“Anybody who comes out of junior or their amateur experience in college and has put up big numbers expects to do that in the NHL. Sometimes, it takes a little longer. He’ll find his level. The big thing for him is the investment he’s put into being a good two-way player and the effort he puts into that.”
After back-to-back 18-goal seasons, many people thought the former Michigan Wolverine might project as a second-line centre and a top-six forward.
With Sam Gagner and captain Shawn Horcoff ahead of him at centre and Ales Hemsky, Dustin Penner, Hall and Eberle also slotted into Renney’s first two lines, Cogliano’s had to re-think that.
“The thing about Andrew that sticks out is all he wants to do is win,” said Gagner, who broke into the NHL with Cogliano in 2007-08. “He wants to be a part of a winning team here. He’ll do anything it takes.
“It’s a results-oriented league and people look at stats and try to come to conclusions with those, but you have to look at how he approaches things. He comes to work every day with a great attitude.”
The five-foot-11, 190-pound Cogliano has to be solid defensively. He has to be more physical than is his inclination. He has to improve in the faceoff circles, where he’s just 42.8 per cent.
“You look around the room and you see guys who are going to get the shot and that’s the bottom line,” Cogliano said of playing in the top six forward slots. “That’s fine.
“There’s no reason why I can’t play a game that’s sound at both ends of the rink, add offence, bring a physical element and compete every game. That’s a valuable part of a team.”
The constant with Cogliano, despite lack of results, is there’s been no shortage of effort. He vows that won’t change.
“I feel like a work hard every game,” Cogliano said. “I’m engaged. I feel like I’m doing everything possible to get better.
“I’m determined to get better and to be in this league for a long time. That’s my goal. I want to be an NHL player for 10 or 15 years, and I’m going to find a way to do that. That’s never going to change.”