Cooley hopes to play for the Coyotes after his freshman college season

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — Logan Cooley said he can’t wait to play for the United States at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Edmonton Aug. 9-20, the start of a season that will continue at the University of Minnesota and could end with the Arizona Coyotes.

“I feel really good,” the 18-year-old center said at the National Junior Evaluation Camp at the USA Hockey Arena last week. “My skills feel sharp. Skating feels good. I don’t feel tired at all. I feel ready to go.”

It’s been a hectic few months for Cooley, and he’s just getting started.

He had one assist in a 3-2 win against Slovakia in the preliminary round on Dec. 26, the United States’ lone game before the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship was canceled on Dec. 29 due to concerns about the coronavirus.

He had 75 points (27 goals, 48 ​​assists) in 51 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program U18 team.

The Coyotes selected Cooley with the No. 3 pick in the 2022 NHL Draft on July 7, with general manager Bill Armstrong saying, “He’s exactly what we need and he has a chance to be a No. 1 center in the National Hockey League League.”

Cooley said, “Obviously getting drafted, especially a top-five pick, is pretty surreal, something I’ve dreamed about. But to have that moment with my family in Montreal, that was pretty special.”

Video: Cooley on Coyotes pick him No. 3 in 2022 NHL Draft

Cooley flew on a private jet from Montreal to Phoenix, where he sat in on a news conference between Armstrong and Arizona’s other first-round picks: Center Conor Geekie (No. 11) and defensive end Maveric Lamoureux (No. 29). Then he got a dose of reality at the Coyotes’ development camp, from the physical testing of the ice to the competition on the ice.

His biggest takeaway?

“I just think about how hard it is to crack the lineup in the NHL, how hard guys go and how much stronger I need to get as well,” Cooley said. “A year of college can really help. Just keep developing and then I think I’ll be ready.”

Cooley (5-foot-10, 180 pounds) returned home to the Pittsburgh area and skated at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ practice facility in Cranberry, Pennsylvania. He shared the ice with several NHL players, including the Vancouver Canucks forward JT MillerNew York Rangers center Vincent Trocheck and Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson, which has shown Cooley how difficult it is to score at the sport’s highest level. Cooley said Gibson barely nets him, then takes out his glove to make a quick save.

“Obviously, goalies in the NHL are really good, so I’m working on getting my shot a little harder, a little more accurate as well,” Cooley said.

U.S. coach Nate Leman said Cooley played a lot of games against Slovakia on Dec. 26, leading him to believe Cooley would be relied upon toward the end of the tournament, which has been rescheduled and will restart more than seven months later. NHL Network will offer complete coverage of the tournament.

Cooley made an impression from his first practice at the National Junior Evaluation Camp.

“He’s ready with the puck,” Leaman said. “He’s strong, can play a lot, and he’s willing to defend as well. He’s going to play a lot for us.”

Defender Luke Hugheswho was selected by the New Jersey Devils with the No. 4 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and is playing at the University of Michigan, said he and his future Big Ten opponent went after each other in post-practice match drills.

“I think he’s obviously a very skilled player,” Hughes said of Cooley. “He can skate. He’s got really good hockey sense. He’s bigger than expected. He’s pretty strong out there and he’s got a strong stick, really quick. He’s a great player. It’s going to be fun playing him in Minnesota .”

After the world juniors, Cooley will return home for a few days, then head to Minnesota for his freshman season.

After that?

“Obviously, you know, I want to play in the NHL as soon as possible,” Cooley said. “I had the chance to talk to Bill Armstrong a little bit, but it’s also going to come down to what kind of season I have and how I do out there. The rest will take care of itself.”

Photos: Kelsey Grant/Arizona Coyotes

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