Dylan Coghlan turned a lot of heads with his rookie camp performance last week, but the most surprising thing the Golden Knights defenseman did was not wear a full face shield.
Coghlan took a slap shot to the jaw during the final game of the American Hockey League regular season April 13 and missed 16 games while recovering. He couldn’t eat normally, but he could skate and was back on the ice before the playoffs concluded.
Now he’s skating with his jaw exposed while trying to prove he’s ready to break training camp with the Knights. It’s a toughness he honed while climbing the hockey ladder step by step, and he’s getting close to the final rung.
“I think I have a lot to offer that I could bring up to this club,” Coghlan said. He welcomes the pressure that comes with competing for a roster spot. “I’m going to work as hard as I can for that.”
Coghlan, 21, has worked hard just to get to this point. The British Columbia native attended the Knights’ development camp in 2017 trying to latch on with a team after going undrafted and earned an entry-level contract by September.
Last season, he turned professional and competed for a role on a Wolves team that had a first-round pick (Erik Brannstrom), a second-round pick (Nicolas Hague) and a player with brief NHL experience on the blue line (Zach Whitecloud). Coghlan outscored all of them with 40 points in 66 games.
When Brannstrom was sent to the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline, Coghlan was put in charge of the team’s No. 1 power-play unit.
“I think it’s motivating to be the underdog,” Coghlan said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of expectations coming in for a few people here (in rookie camp). I just want to come in and show that I have what it takes. I think I do.”
There’s few questions about Coghlan’s offensive game. His three goals and two assists in three Anaheim Rookie Faceoff games showed that. As Jimmy Schuldt, his defensive partner for rookie camp, says: “He’s a guy that you want to get the puck to because he’ll do good things with it.”
There’s more concern about how his play without the puck will translate. It’s something he’s been working on for the past year. He said he took “a big step” in his own zone the past year and wants to show that defensive growth to the Knights.
“He’s really just improved consistently from the time that we had him at the start of last year to playoffs,” said Wolves coach Rocky Thompson, who’s also coaching the Knights’ rookies at camp. “He’s got a big heart like a lot of our players do. He’s great to work with. He’s humble, but he’s a guy who pushes himself every day.
“We’ve seen a lot of areas of growth in his game. Not just with the puck, that was always a big strength of his, but without the puck. His defending, and those types of things are really good.”
Good enough to play in the NHL? That remains to be seen. But with a training camp roster spot in hand, Coghlan will have a shot to prove he belongs. If he’s not afraid of exposing his jaw, he probably won’t be scared by the fierce competition for a roster spot.
“The last couple years they said the team was made up,” Coghlan said. “Obviously, they struggled with cap issues this year, so that opened up a lot of spots for forwards and defensemen. It’s kind of there for anybody. We’re all just working really hard for that.”
Dylan Coghlan file
Hometown: Duncan, British Columbia, Canada
2018-19 AHL stats: 15 goals, 25 assists (40 points) in 66 games