5 Questions: Andrew Cogliano takes next step in NHL development

After a career-worst 26 points last season in Anaheim under Randy Carlyle and current head coach Bruce Boudreau, Ducks centre-turned-winger Andrew Cogliano is on track for a career season, writes CBCSports.ca's Doug Harrison.

Linemates, improved mental strength contribute to Duck's career season

A shift from centre to the wing this season has had much to do with Andrew Cogliano's success with the Ducks, along with his commitment to training last summer and developing on-ice chemistry with Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik. (Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Andrew Cogliano tries to steer from a conversation that has drifted from his present-day success with the Anaheim Ducks to his previous struggles in Edmonton.

But as the young forward reflects on his positive and negative experiences with the Oilers, from getting a chance to play in the National Hockey League to four consecutive missed playoffs, he finds a connection between the only two professional stops in his career.

"In my last season in Edmonton [in 2010-11 head coach] Tom Renney was able to get me to play a game that I think I’m playing now," Cogliano said by phone from California this week. "He was able to put me in a situation and tell me what to do, in terms of playing offensively and defensively, competing, doing the right things.

"The first couple of years I was getting points but I wasn’t consistent and wasn’t playing the right way. It was a growing curve I had to endure. I think that year I turned the corner and I’m picking up where I left off."

After a career-worst 26 points last season in Anaheim under Randy Carlyle and current head coach Bruce Boudreau, Cogliano has shown a dramatic improvement in his game and is on track for a career season.

The 25-year-old Toronto native carries a three-game points streak into Friday’s game against Calgary and has 14 points in 22 starts on the season. The 0.64 points-per-game average tops his previous best of 0.55 in his rookie season of 2007-08.

A shift to the wing full-time this season has had much to do with Cogliano’s success along with his commitment to training last summer and developing on-ice chemistry with linemates Saku Koivu and Daniel Winnik from Day 1 of training camp in January.

Cogliano discussed that, plus playing with good friend and former Oilers teammate Sam Gagner in Austria during the NHL lockout and his short-term outlook with the Ducks in a wide-ranging interview with CBCSports.ca.

1. What has worked for you playing with a 38-year-old veteran in Saku Koivu and why has your line been able to maintain consistency through the first half of the season?

Cogliano: I think our games complement each other. We forecheck hard, we’re able to play against other teams’ top lines when [head coach] Bruce [Boudreau] wants us to, but do it in an offensive way where we’re playing in their end instead of our end.

[Daniel] Winnik’s a guy that can hog the puck down low [in the offensive zone] and Saku [Koivu] has got a great head for the game, sees the ice very well and plays a great two-way game. I think my speed and my forechecking ability mixes in well, in terms of playing good offence but also being good defensively.

When you play [with Koivu] you always feel like you’re prepared to play because he’s such a good professional. You always feel like you have to put your best foot forward just to play with him. He’s very hard on the puck in the offensive zone but then he’s able to backcheck or create back pressure to create turnovers. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with.

2. Game-to-game consistency has been an issue for you during your NHL career. But you’ve only been a minus player in three of Anaheim’s first 21 games this season, so how have you become a player that coach Bruce Boudreau can rely on?

The most important thing is to not get ahead of myself. I think consistency is an issue with a lot of young guys in the league. I’m not really focused on making sure I score or get points. If I can play the right way and be in the right position and compete hard I’m going to get my chance to be a guy that’s dependable.

I felt last year I didn’t get off to the right start with Bruce. There were times when I wasn’t consistent and it showed in my overall game. I prepared hard [last summer] off and on the ice physically, but also mentally, to change a few things that I think are working for me.

3. In the off-season, you visited Dr. Saul Miller in Vancouver, a leading performance and sports psychologist who offers expert insight in dealing effectively with pressure, stress and change. What was your focus with him?

I worked on how to prepare mentally every night no matter if you have a good game or bad game, how to forget things and also how to continue to play well. I did a lot of good work and I was proud of myself.

Some guys know they [could improve their mental strength] but don’t do it because they don’t want to. You have to be keen on making that next step and I wanted to do it. It’s worked in my favour. My [game] preparation has definitely helped me be successful early this season. But the whole point of what I did was to not be satisfied, not be content with what I’ve done and say I’ve played some good games and I can just take it easy for the next 10.

My goal is to be focused and to be driving forward for the next game and through to the end of the season.

4. How has your work with Performance Posture in Vancouver made you a more effective skater and helped extend your streak of consecutive games played to 431?

I think I needed to switch things up. I felt like I was getting nagging injuries at the end of last year that were uncharacteristic for me. I was working with Matt Nichol in Toronto a few summers before that and Matt’s one of the best trainers in the world. For me I just needed to do a different thing, get away from what I was traditionally doing and give my body a new look and it worked really well. We focused a lot on core [strength exercises], we focused a lot on movement.

I think I take care of myself off the ice and I’m very diligent when it comes to that to prevent [the risk] of injury down the line. Also, I think I’ve been lucky. Some guys are just unlucky and get some injuries from time to time that are freak things. I try to avoid those and continue what I’m doing.

5. You joined your buddy, Edmonton Oilers centre Sam Gagner, and played for Klagenfurter of the Erste Bank Hockey League in Austria during the recent NHL lockout. He was also looking to find more consistency in his game, so how did you help each other?

I think it was good for us to mentally do something different and get away from constant working out and skating. I think we worked on our game over there. We played in situations that maybe we weren’t getting a ton of in the NHL and I think it helped our confidence a bit.

We did things in practice and overall it was a good experience. I think [playing there] is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I met new people, experienced another league and played with some great guys.

I’m really excited about the team we have [in Anaheim]. We’re off to a good start, I’ve never played in the playoffs before and that’s where I want to be. I just want to make a difference with this team. I want to be a guy they can depend on.