Just over two months ago the State of Hockey was rejoicing as Minnesota Gophers freshman and runner-up for the Hobey baker Award Logan Cooley announced via Dinkytown Athletes that he was going to return for his sophomore season at the U, and automatically became the favorite to win the Hobey in 2024. Well, those dreams started to falter in early July when Cooley gave an interview to an Arizona Coyotes reporter and left open a chance that he would sing and not return to the U after all. Three weeks after that on Wednesday the Coyotes started tweeting out not so subtle messages that it sure looked like Cooley was headed to the southwest. Officially on Thursday the announcement was made. Cooley would leave the Gophers and sign a three year entry-level deal with the Coyotes and will attempt to make his NHL debut this fall.
Cooley explained the situation in an Instagram message he left for Minnesota fans after he officially signed.
Logan Cooley’s message to Gopher fans. pic.twitter.com/4v7e29eXyu— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) July 27, 2023
He said he didn’t mean to mislead anyone but that he decided that he was ready to move on and play at the top level—the NHL. There were some questions about Cooley’s readiness for the NHL—he’s incredibly skilled on offense but can be lackadaisical on defense on occasion—things that an NHL opponent will be able to exploit. Also, Cooley still needs to put some significant weight on to be able to compete as a power forward at the NHL level—something that may have been easier to do with one more year of college under his belt. But, it’s all under the bridge at this point, and Cooley will likely be in the Coyotes’ starting line up when they open the 2023-24 regular season in New Jersey on October 13th.
Cooley’s late departure leaves the Gophers in a bit of a lurch. Minnesota currently only has 12 forwards on their roster leaving zero room for any player to miss time with an injury or other reason. It’s likely that Minnesota will need to ask at least one of if not both Bennett Hendrickson and Jimmy Clark to come in and play for the U this season—when they hoped that both would play one more season in the USHL in 2023-24. Even at that Minnesota still could use at least one more forward body for roster depth especially when it’s likely the Gophers will be missing at least a pair of forwards in Jimmy Snuggerud and incoming freshman Oliver Moore when they are with the US World Junior team in late December. It’s possible that had Bob Motzko known that Cooley would be leaving that he could have found a transfer portal forward who could have stepped in and provided immediate top 9 forward depth, but that is no longer the case as there are none of those type of players still on the market. Its much more likely that Hendrickson comes in and that they try and find a depth forward somewhere who sits a majority of the season barring injuries or World Junior depth issues.
The Gophers should still be the favorite to win the Big Ten once again, and with the NCAA Frozen Four at the Xcel Energy Center in 2024, the Gophers would love to get back and try and win a title on home ice. They still have a ton of offense on their roster between Snuggerud, Aaron Hugelin, Jaxon Nelson, and with addition of Moore. They lost a ton of blue line talent but return Luke Mittelstadt, Ryan Chesley and Mike Koster while adding 2022 NHL First Round pick Sam Rinzel. Justen Close returns in the net for Minnesota and hopefully can continue his stellar play.
Losing a player of Cooley’s caliber this late is not great, but the Gophers should hopefully have enough horses to overcome it. We just won’t know until next spring.