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Logan Cooley is Ready for the NHL Draft Spotlight

If opponents aren’t attentive, Logan Cooley can become hockey’s answer to the ‘invisible gorilla’ when he’s on the ice. His savvy and 200-foot game have vaulted him to elite-prospect status ahead of the 2022 NHL draft.
Logan Cooley

Let’s talk about the Invisible Gorilla.

In 1999, researchers Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris set out to study inattentional blindness, the phenomenon of failing to perceive something happening in plain sight. In doing so, the pair conceived of the Invisible Gorilla Test. In a 24-second clip, two three-person teams, separated into black and white shirts, passed a basketball to teammates while bobbing and weaving around each other. The study tasked participants with watching the clip and counting the white team’s passes.

The majority of those who participated correctly counted the 15 passes. What roughly half of those participants missed, however, was the person in a gorilla suit passing directly through the frame. Upon rewatching the clip, of course, the gorilla’s cameo is clear as day. But, hey, you’re looking for it.

In a sense, that experience – that how-didn’t-I-see-it befuddlement – is akin to watching Logan Cooley’s game tape. Just ask Brian Mueller, the executive director of hockey development and programming for the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program. Mueller was behind the bench as an underaged and undersized Cooley dazzled against players one year his senior, playing for the U-16 team in 2019-20. Often, Mueller only saw Cooley’s true brilliance when rewatching the games on video. “That’s what I was always amazed with,” Mueller said. “ ‘OK, I remember the goal, but how did that goal get set up?’ And there were so many times where it was like, ‘Holy cow, he set that goal up 10 seconds before we actually scored.’ It’s those subtle little plays that if he didn’t do that or see the play before it was going to happen, the play would have been dead. That’s where I really took an appreciation for what he does and what he can do.”

Mueller isn’t alone in his assessment; just about anyone you ask will trumpet Cooley’s hockey IQ as his defining on-ice characteristic. Mueller, who coached big-league prospects such as Jack Drury, Jacob Pivonka and Spencer Stastney, said he has yet to come across another youngster with a mind for the game quite like Cooley. Adam Nightingale, the bench boss of the U-18 squad for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, said the first thing he noticed upon joining the program two seasons ago was Cooley’s smarts. And Brent Darnell – a former NTDP assistant coach and now assistant director of player personnel – made it sound as though catching Cooley out of position is about as rare as spotting Bigfoot.

It could just be that his mind comes with the territory. Cooley is the nephew of two Div. I college players, and there’s an argument to be made his hockey IQ is innate, that it’s simply part of his genealogical makeup. That he has three cousins who either played or are playing elite-level hockey gives the natural-gifts view some credence. More likely, though, is road-hockey summers and backyard-rink winters spent competing against his bigger and stronger older brothers acted as his stick-and-skates study hall. Eldest brother Eric played this year at Ohio State, while middle brother Riley last played in the NAHL in 2019-20. In those 1-on-1-on-1 games, the baby of the Cooley brothers learned to outwit rather than outmuscle.

“Being the younger brother, I always had to work as hard as I could just to even catch up to them,” Cooley said. “Just in general, too, we have a group of buddies that played junior or college, and their friends were older. So, going against my older brothers and their older friends helped push me big-time. It’s one of the reasons I’m at where I’m at today, because of how hard I had to work.”

Cooley has shown that work ethic in the effort he’s put into rounding out his skill set. More specifically, the 18-year-old pivot developed his two-way game to become a 200-foot threat. Arriving out of AAA hockey, it had been enough at times for Cooley to take a game into his own hands and control the flow of play with his offensive gifts. He could score his way out of trouble. But NTDP life required newfound attention to detail in his own zone.

If you haven’t already guessed, Cooley is a quick study. So, when Nightingale feeds him a tip here or there mid-game, puts the time in during practice to give the youngster pointers or sits him down to watch master-of-the-craft Patrice Bergeron at work, it pays dividends in a hurry. Cooley’s scouting reports often cite his defensive responsibility and reliability in all three zones. And Cooley understands its impact on his appeal to teams at the top end of the draft. “It’s one of the reasons I feel my stock has grown, because of the way I play both sides of the puck,” he said.

Can’t argue with that, given he has risen from being a likely top-10 pick as of last summer to now being a projected top-three selection in July’s cattle call. And the improvement in the defensive side of his game is such that Nightingale believes it has become part of what separates Cooley from his peers. “When the draft comes here, teams are going to make decisions on guys and really the decision is, how can this guy help us win a Stanley Cup?” Nightingale said. “Logan is one of those guys. If I’m a team looking and I’m making a decision, I definitely think when you watch him play, this is a guy that helps us win because he does play 200 feet.”

The irony is the players Cooley cites as his greatest influences are the antithesis of the two-way-pivot profile he seemingly fits. Rather, he sees himself as a Clayton Keller or Patrick Kane type. Cooley wants the puck on his stick. He wants to use his speed and beat defenders. His creativity and smooth stickhandling make him a constant offensive threat. And his numbers are impressive: 78 goals and 197 points in 160 games across all competitions in his two NTDP seasons.

Sure, some areas could use work. His shot, for instance. Cooley has been working on his strength, too, and has been filling out his frame as he prepares to make the leap from the NTDP to the NCAA, where he recently changed commitments from Notre Dame to the University of Minnesota. Having watched him for two seasons, however, Nightingale asserts that the attributes that make Cooley successful offensively are those which he already possesses, the most important of which might be his knack for finding teammates and raising those around him to his level. “I think that he really, truly does have a gift,” Nightingale said.

And if you’re not already, here’s the part where you really start to root for the kid: that on-ice selflessness is a carryover from the way he lives his life off the ice. Mueller, Darnell and Nightingale are all are quick to praise Cooley’s character. Despite coaching him at a time when most adolescents have a nose for nuisance, Mueller said Cooley was one player that he never had to worry about. Darnell used the descriptor “low-ego kid.” And Nightingale heaped on the praise, saying Cooley is “low maintenance, like zero maintenance. Doesn’t expect special treatment, knows it’s about team, and you can tell his parents have really done a nice job of raising him to be respectful, humble, appreciative.”

That’s all especially impressive given it has no doubt been impossible to shelter himself from the draft hubbub. It would be easy to get a big head when all the chatter surrounding you isn’t as much about whether you’ll be drafted as it is if you’ll be going in the top three. And hey, Cooley could lie. He could say he hasn’t thought about that at all, hasn’t checked the prospect rankings, spied a mock draft or two. Instead, he’s willing to admit his curiosity has gotten the better of him, but there’s not an ounce of insincerity to his aw-shucks attitude about his spot on those lists.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been times Cooley has been swept up in it all. It’s a whirlwind, one he’ll only experience once in his life. But if ever there was a time it all got to be a bit much, he didn’t hesitate to lean on his family. And it was in conversation with his dad that Cooley would be reminded about the days when none of this mattered, when the game was just about a stick, a puck and the chance to go out and have some fun.

“When you put that aside and I focus on what I love to do, which is play hockey and try to enjoy it, that’s when things really started to take off,” Cooley said. “I didn’t let the noise get to me. It is every kid’s dream to get drafted to the NHL, so that’s something you have to enjoy and take it day by day.” 

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