Tim Benz: NHL Draft could yield quality pick for Penguins, and some Pittsburgh hockey history thanks to Logan Cooley

Already a candidate to be the highest-ever Pittsburgh-area hockey player to be selected in the NHL draft, West Mifflin product Logan Cooley is still in the conversation to go No. 1 overall.

While the Montreal Canadiens are expected to take Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) center Shane Wright with the top pick next month (July 7-8), Cooley is also said to be in the mix. And it’s tough to find a mock draft projection that has him falling out of the top 3.

Buffalo News reporter Lance Lysowski joined me on 105.9 The X Monday. He covered the NHL scouting combine last week. And he says if the Canadiens pick someone besides Wright, it might be Cooley.

“He had a dinner with the Montreal Canadiens at the draft. They did not dine with just everybody. It was him and Shane Wright. That seems to be the two-horse race of who will go No. 1. ” Lysowski said. “Logan Cooley should not slip past No. 3 to Arizona. It would be sort of a surprise if he did, considering how big of a season he had. He tested incredibly well at the combine. … Any team that gets him is looking to get a franchise center. ”

Cooley finished with 75 points in 51 games with the US National Development U18 team this past year. He’s also a product of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program.

“This is the latest example of how strong the Pittsburgh youth hockey scene has become,” Lysowski said. “He took learn-to-play sessions when Sidney Crosby had his program going on. It’s interesting to see a high-end talent coming from Pittsburgh. But it should not surprise anybody considering how much work has been done to build the youth hockey scene up to where it is now. ”

Finnish winger Juraj Slafkovsky is being projected by many to go No. 2 to the New Jersey Devils. But if Cooley is still on the board at No. 3, expect the Coyotes to grab him.

“The Coyotes are a team that needs everything,” Lysowski said. “You’ve got to build strong down the middle. Center is going to be the position. I do not see them picking a defenseman where they are. Cooley, going to the University of Minnesota next season, I do not expect him to make the immediate jump to the NHL. Physically (5-foot-10, 174 pounds) I do not think he is quite there yet. Slafkovsky might be the only player in this draft ready to make that jump physically. But (Cooley) is a really high-end talent. Super skilled. ”

As for the Penguins, they draft No. 21. One player that has been linked to them is one of Cooley’s USNDT teammates, Jimmy Snuggerud. In 51 games with the US National U18 team, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Snuggerud posted 20 goals and 56 points. A right-hand shooting winger, he is the son of former Buffalo Saber draft choice, Dave Snuggerud. In mock drafts, he’s frequently been a first-round pick who is likely to come off the board in the late teens or early 20s of the draft.

“His dad was a gritty player. A penalty killer, ”Lysowski said. “Jimmy is a scorer. He’s got a really good shot. He talked about improving his skating. But very high-end skill. ”

Even if the Pens can’t get Snuggerud or Cooley, it’s a rare season in which the franchise has held onto its first-round pick. And Lysowski says this is a good year to be drafting in the early 20s.

“The first round is deep. There are a lot of really good players. Different positions. If you need a goalie, this is not the draft for you. But everything else? Yeah. You are going to get some help in the first round, ”Lysowski said.

Also in our conversation, Lysowski and I talk about how polished Cooley has gotten when it comes to dealing with the pressures of being a top pick. We get into Cooley’s rich hockey family heritage. Lysowski wrote an interesting piece about how Cooley’s brother, Eric – who played college hockey at Niagara and Ohio State – overcame a career-threatening skate-blade injury and how his perseverance inspired Logan.

We also get into the nuts and bolts of how the NHL combines works and how teams use the data compared to what the NFL does from its event.

Listen: Tim Benz and Lance Lysowski talk about the upcoming NHL Draft

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless otherwise specified.

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