SUN Hockey Pool

Cogliano stepping up

DEREK VAN DIEST, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:00 PM ET

His goal has always been to be an NHL first-line centre.

However, Andrew Cogliano didn’t envision it happening in this manner, with everyone else dropping like flies around him.

On Thursday, Cogliano will be the Oilers’ top centre by default when they play host to the Phoenix Coyotes.

“It’s a good opportunity,” said Cogliano. “I think I’ve been playing a lot more this season than I did last season, which has been awesome. I have the trust and confidence of the coaching staff, which is a great feeling.

“I think now, with the guys that are out now, I’m going to get a chance to play a few more minutes, important minutes and it’s time in my career where I step up to the plate and do that well.”

Having come into the season uncertain of his role, and perhaps his future, with the Oilers, Cogliano has reinvented himself to become a valuable member of the club.

The Toronto native has developed into a trusted checking centre and a quality penalty killer this season.

“Andrew’s had a good year,” said Oilers head coach Tom Renney. “Andrew’s been very consistent for us this year, he’s identified with what he needs to be as a player, and that’s a two-way guy.

“We have to continue to work with him on the face-off circle, as we do with everybody, but he’s really been able to contribute, 200 by 85 (feet, the rink’s dimensions), as a complete player more so than I think he has in the past.”

Selected by the Oilers in the first round — 25th overall — of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Cogliano has been trying to live up to an outstanding rookie season that saw him score 18 goals and register 45 points.

In the three subsequent seasons, Cogliano has been unable to match those totals and heads into Thursday’s game with 11 goals and 29 points.

However, his contribution in other areas of the game has increased, starting with the penalty kill — a role he’s embraced this season.

“I think it kind of gave me an opportunity to focus on another part of the game, and it helped me tie everything else in,” Cogliano said. “I felt that part of the game helped me get more minutes and get the trust of the coach. I think the pride I’ve taken in that has helped me get more ice time.

“I feel like the offence is coming, I feel like I can create chances. I might not be scoring, but I’m creating chances and the penalty killing is something that I’ve tried to take pride in. I think consistency is a big thing for me this year and with 12 games left, I’m hoping to take it to the next level.”

Surprisingly, despite getting repeatedly high-sticked in the mouth this season, Cogliano is one of just two Oilers to have played in every game so far this year.

He’s currently one of just two healthy centres on the club as Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Gilbert Brule are all out injuries.

Heading towards the end of the season, Cogliano is expected to pick up a bulk of the ice time up the middle, which should include more offensive opportunities.

Yet, according to Renney, it’s important for Cogliano not to get away from the things that have made him successful this season.

“He has been consistent and that’s a good thing,” Renney said. “What he needs to do now is look at these next 12 games as being very important to nail that down still, and not let a very unique, unfortunate, disappointing, pain in the backside set of circumstances force him to be more than what he should be.”

derek.vandiest@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/DerekVanDiest


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