When the Anaheim Ducks traded two players and a trio of picks to the Edmonton Oilers for Chris Pronger during the summer of 2006, the immediate expectation was that the former Hart Trophy-winning defenseman would (and ultimately did) put Anaheim over the top to help the team claim California's first Stanley Cup. Five years and eight days following that fateful deal, the Ducks acquired Andrew Cogliano from the same Alberta club for the modest sum of a second round draft pick. While the fanfare for Cogliano will likely never reach the peaks of Pronger during his tenure with the team, the role the Canadian forward fills is every bit as valuable in the quest to reclaim the Cup.
Though third line forwards rarely receive the acclaim of a superstar scorer or a shutdown defenseman, one need only to look to that 2007 title team's numbers to be reminded how vital they are. The combination of Samuel Pahlsson centering Travis Moen and Rob Niedermayer accounted in the regular season for two of the top three hitters, the top shot-blocking forward, the team leader in takeaways, two of the top six forwards in PIM, and three of the top four penalty killing forwards in average icetime per game. Come playoff time Moen tied Ryan Getzlaf for second in goals (7) and first in game winning goals (3), Pahlsson tied Pronger for tops in plus/minus (+10) with Niedermayer finishing second (+9), and Pahlsson taking nearly 150 more faceoffs (462 winning 53.2%) than the next closest center. The trio were also three of the top four hitters, three of the top four fowards in penalty killing icetime per game, three of the top seven forwards in total icetime per game, and three of the top four forwards in shifts per game.
Perhaps it's unsurprising that Cogliano has stepped into a similar sort of role for the current iteration of the Ducks. The University of Michigan hockey program has produced such two-way NHLers as three-time Stanley Cup champion John Madden, Brendan Morrison, and Mike Knuble. Cogliano was an important part of legendary coach Red Berenson's squads in 2005-'06 and '06-'07, where the scoring touch that's become more prevalent in recent seasons certainly shone in his sophomore year with the maize and blue. That season he finished tied for eighth in the nation in scoring with 24 goals and 26 assists, finishing ahead of fellow future NHLers like North Dakota's Jonathan Toews, Minnesota's Kyle Okposo, and Minnesota-Duluth's Mason Raymond.
Since being asked by then Oilers coaches Tom Renney and Ralph Kruger to play a two-way style balancing offense and defense to establish his place as an every-day NHLer, Cogliano has improved each season since being acquired by Anaheim. With goals and points per game numbers increasing every season (0.16 to .27 to .31 in GPG and .32 to .48 to .58 in PtPG), his plus/minus numbers have followed the same trend (-4 to 14 to 15). Thanks to his responsible play he draws the fourth most shifts per game amongst forwards on the team (22.4), and is tied with Nick Bonino for fourth highest penalty killing icetime per game among forwards (1:32). He brings a physical edge as well as his 60 hits trail only Matt Beleskey (62) among forwards and rank him fifth overall on the team. His speed and forechecking ability have made him a terror on the penalty kill in creating and finishing offensive opportunities while down a man, his three shorthanded points tied for the league lead and two shorthanded goals are tied for second.
As mentioned on a recent Anaheim Calling Podcast, Cogliano's skill set reminds of a more offensively effective Kris Draper. Draper was a critical lower line component of four Stanley Cup championships with the Detroit Red Wings, winning the Selke in 2004 and representing Canada at the Turin Winter Olympics in 2006. Both are listed at 5'10", made the biggest impact playing on a third line where they served as a speedy forechecker, and plied their trade as penalty kill specialists. The Red Wings were able to rely on Draper's consistency for 17 seasons, part of the 'Grind Line' with rugged Darren McCarty and sly Kirk Maltby which featured three of the five players (Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom the others) who were a part of all four title teams.
By signing Cogliano to a longer term deal, it enables Anaheim to begin to build that kind of consistency on the lower lines as enjoyed by the league's most dominant franchise since Gary Bettman became commissioner. Though Saku Koivu's career is approaching the light at the end of the tunnel, both the 26 year-old Cogliano and 28 year-old Daniel Winnik are firmly established NHLers that have the potential to become third line pillars and form the spine of a lineup headed by Getzlaf and Corey Perry. Perhaps this move is a prelude to that as Winnik stands to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and has shown the kind of value in being able to excel in a similar role at multiple positions since being signed as a free agent from San Jose in 2012. Though the Ducks have treated third and fourth line players as a disposable commodity in recent seasons (see: Brian Sutherby, Mike Brown, Petteri Nokelainen, Kyle Calder, Brad Winchester etc), there are worse examples to follow than the team that has claimed the Stanley Cup more than any other since 1994.
Most important though is that this deal is one that's been earned on the basis of hard work and constant improvement. Cogliano wanting to be in Anaheim long term speaks to how he views the franchise, not only now in its current record-setting form, but for the future as well. An entire career and full summer's worth of work has cemented his spot in southern California and secured the financial future of his family. As Cogliano told Fox Sports' Lisa Hillary on the January 12th edition of Ducks Weekly, "My main goal from the beginning was always to be extended and stay here. This organization, the fanbase here, the people involved, it's really first class."
It may be coincidence that Detroit has been unable to win the Stanley Cup since the retirement of the 'Grind Line'. The Ducks third line was vital in holding the duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk to only two goals in the five games before closing out the 2007 Western Conference Final en route to the Stanley Cup. Now a player who attended university outside of the Motor City and was rescued from the forsaken frozen plains of Alberta has become a tent-pole player for Anaheim. If the grandest trophy in all of North American sport is to make a second appearance in Orange County in the near future, Andrew Cogliano will most assuredly play a major part in it.