Cogliano role-ing along

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:54 AM ET

The playoff hopes disappeared long ago, he has gone from budding phenom to question mark, his self-worth has taken a bruising and his team doesn’t quite know what to do with him.

So, don’t tell Andrew Cogliano there is nothing to play for down the stretch. The 22-year-old former star with the St. Michael’s Buzzers is fighting for his NHL life — at least the Edmonton Oilers’ chapter.

“This year has been very trying, not only for myself, but the entire team,” said Cogliano, as evidenced by the seven goals and 18 points.

The Oilers expected more. So, did Cogliano, actually. But, for the first time in his hockey career, the Woodbridge native has found himself playing on the third and fourth lines, averaging less than 14 minutes a game some nights.

“We’re in last place ... so nobody in this room is having the year they wanted.” said Cogliano, who provided a couple of Oilers bright moments with a goal and an assist Saturday night in a loss to the Maple Leafs.

When he struggled offensively, Oilers management decided his speed — he won the fastest-skater competition during the 2009 all-star skills competition — might make him an ideal checking centre. So, for the first time in his hockey life, he wasn’t the go-to guy offensively.

“When you’re put in a certain role, you have to adapt. If you’re playing in the bottom six (forwards) or on the fourth line, you can’t pretend you’re on the top line. If they’re asking you to go hit, to go dump the puck in, then that’s what you do.”

The reviews have been mixed.

“He certainly had a decent night in many phases,” Oilers coach Pat Quinn said. “Finally, he shot the puck. That’s one of the things we’ve been barking at him about.”

They want him to be better defensively so, “it’s been a learning curve,” said Cogliano.

“I’ve taken steps in parts of the game I’ve never done before, like playing gritty, my faceoffs are better, playing a more sound game. I’m confident I always will have the offensive ability (and) score close to 20 goals a year.”

But that doesn’t happen on a fourth line.

Cogliano has a history of lighting up offences: 175 points in 85 junior games with the Buzzers and 78 points in 77 games in two seasons with the University of Michigan Wolverines. Dubbed the Kid Line, along with Sam Gagner and Robert Nilsson, he scored five game-winning goals his first season in Edmonton. He had 18 goals that first season; that many again last year. But the grumbling started last year about his overall play. Then came this season of disquiet and confusion.

“The last 20 games, I’ve been using to gain my confidence back, getting back to playing the way I did my first couple years. This game is so much about confidence. If you don’t have that you can’t play,” said Cogliano, a restricted free agent after the season.

Wants to stay

He says he’d like to remain in Edmonton.

“I think it’s a situation where the organization is trying to find out who they want for the long haul,” said Cogliano.

The Oilers want to love him but don’t seem quite sure how to accomplish that. It’s only the past two weeks that he’s found himself back among the top six forwards.

“He’s improved and we’re trying to give him more responsibility. He’s given good effort,” said Quinn. “We know (he) needs work in the defensive zone ... (and) he wants to carry the puck about two to three feet from the net and, in the NHL, I don’t care how good you skate, that doesn’t work.”

Last night he played almost 16 minutes alongside Dustin Penner and Gilbert Brule.

“I’m getting a bigger offensive role again,” he said. “I don’t think they look at me as a 30-40 goal guy. You’ve got to be realistic about what you can do. This is a very tough league to play in.

“But, the coaches have told me I can be a good two-way centre and it’s a role I’d love.”


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