Yogan's flair for offense always evident
Skilled South Florida native loves nothing more than putting puck in net
• Your View: Will Yogan Be Big Scorer in NHL, Too?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
Almost one year to the day after 19-year-old Andrew Yogan was born in Boca Raton, Fla., the National Hockey League announced a decision that would change the course of Yogan's life.
In December 1992, the NHL awarded one of two expansion franchises to South Florida, bringing hockey to an area where most existing fans were transplanted Northerners and Canadians who had long dreamed of attending games in the Sunshine State.
The focus, however, wasn't just on Floridans who already liked hockey. Nearly 20 years ago, the NHL expressed a hope that expansion into markets such as South Florida would expose countless local kids to the game, and that some of the young athletes introduced to hockey via expansion would one day go on to play in the league.
That dream of two decades ago might be realized sooner than anyone could have imagined. Yogan, who grew up just a stone's throw from the Florida Panthers' practice facility in Coral Springs and was 4 years old when the team played in the 1996 Stanley Cup Finals, has a chance to become the first homegrown NHL fan from South Florida to reach hockey's highest level.
Selected by the Rangers 100th overall with a fourth-round pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Yogan is a highly-skilled forward who can play both center and left wing. After crossing the border to pursue his NHL dream in the Ontario Hockey League, he racked up 45 goals and 93 points in his last 108 OHL games, following a November 2008 trade from the Windsor Spitfires to the Erie Otters.
Yogan was particularly outstanding in his draft year of 2009-10, posting OHL career-highs of 25 goals and 55 points. He was poised for even bigger numbers last year, but preseason shoulder surgery kept him out of action until mid-February, and he didn't hit his offensive stride until a season-ending two-game stint with the Connecticut Whale -- the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford.
|Despite missing most of last season recovering from shoulder surgery, Andrew Yogan was in top form at this year's Rangers Prospect Development Camp. He always seemed to be in the middle of the action and showed a remarkable knack for goal-scoring.|
"It was pretty rough, but the surgery had to be done," said Yogan "... It feels great now, and it's much more stable than it was before. It was necessary for me to get that surgery so I could play 100 percent up to my expectations, and getting that out of the way definitely is going to help out my game."
It was hard not to be disappointed about the surgery, however, since Yogan had shown such promise at Traverse City. He was so impressive on the fourth line in the opener against Columbus that prospects team coach Ken Gernander bumped him up to the second line for games vs. Carolina and Minnesota. He missed scoring by inches when he hit a post against the Hurricanes and then came back with a goal against the Wild and a goal and an assist in a 7-2 win over Dallas to close out the tournament.
Skating exclusively as a left wing at Traverse City, Yogan was one of the team's most pleasant surprises with three points. He looks forward to returning to the tournament next month, where he could emerge as one of the team's top scorers over the course of four games that Rangers fans will be able to watch on MSG.
"I know what's expected and I know what I need to do. It's also going to be my second year going there. I got the goosebumps behind me that first year," Yogan said of Traverse City. "... Now I know that I can play with these guys, and now I can show everybody what I have. I can actually make an impact out there, so I'm pretty excited for this year's tournament."
On top of last year's Traverse City experience, Yogan also gained exposure to the pro lifestyle by spending the final month of his rehabilitation with the Whale training staff in Hartford. Being around professional players helped Yogan realize what he would need to do to succeed at the next level and helped him gear up for the difficult process of re-integrating himself into the Otters lineup.
|Andrew Yogan made a big splash in the Rangers organization by scoring two goals at the 2010 Traverse City Prospects Tournament less than three months after he was picked in the NHL Entry Draft.|
Everything finally began to come together on March 6 against Sarnia, when Yogan assisted on the winning goal in an 8-2 rout and finished with a plus-3 rating. Just under a week later, on March 12 vs. Kitchener, he erupted for a hat trick and No. 1 star honors in a wild 5-4 victory decided by an overtime shootout.
"Our team was doing very well at the time, and our coach felt the lineup he had was the one he needed," said Yogan of his slow start once he returned. "It was just a matter of me working my way back into the lineup and trying to get the chemistry down. In that one game where I got the hat trick, I got my opportunity, but things were just a little more difficult than they usually are when you're there all year."
In his three-goal game, Yogan gave the Otters a 1-0 lead just under two minutes into the first period, scored his second goal for a 2-0 lead at 5:05 of the middle period, and finished up his hat trick before the second intermission.
"He missed so much of the season, but the one positive was that we were able to see him at the end of the year get some games and play a little bit in the playoffs," Rangers Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton said of Yogan. "But he was so far behind it was tough for him there, although he did have the one big game where he had the hat trick."
Yogan went on to record assists in two of the Otters' first three playoff games, but Erie was ousted by Windsor in a seven-game series, officially ending Yogan's OHL season on April 5. That gave him a chance to go back to the Whale for his AHL debut on April 9, and he made the most of his opportunity.
He immediately turned heads in a 4-3 home loss to Bridgeport, scoring two of the Whale's three goals to earn No. 1 star honors. He stole the show by scoring his first AHL goal at 1:54 of the second period to trim Bridgeport's lead to 2-1 and then adding another at 12:25 of te third period, cutting the lead in half again at 4-2.
|Andrew Yogan had a great AHL debut last April, scoring twice for the Connecticut Whale. He also had an assist in his only other AHL appearance.|
The following night, in the Whale's regular-season finale against Norfolk, Yogan picked up his third point in two AHL games when he assisted on a goal by defenseman Pavel Valentenko in a 6-3 loss to the Admirals. Although he did not play in the postseason, Yogan had certainly made a big impression by showing his pro potential.
"He goes right to Hartford and plays those two games, and he did really well," said Gorton. "He scored a couple of goals, made some plays and went to the net. He's one of those guys where the puck follows him. He's a puck-lucky guy who goes to the hard areas and he seems to have some luck where the puck goes to him. And he's got size. ... Adam Graves saw him at the end, and he couldn't believe how much the puck was following him around in Hartford."
Yogan continued to build on his AHL success at the Blueshirts' 2011 Prospect Development Camp, where he was one of the dominant offensive players. His left shoulder was clearly 100 percent, enabling him to take his game up a notch and score some pretty goals in the scrimmages. He also seemed to be in the middle of the action at all times.
Taking the next step, and developing himself for an NHL career, is the challenge now facing Yogan. His late 1991 birthdate makes him eligible to either play an overage year of major-junior hockey or enter the pros this season, giving the Rangers organization some flexibility in terms of his charting his development beyond training camp. His major-junior rights now belong to the Peterborough Petes, who obtained him from Erie in an Aug. 5 trade.
Gorton said that although Yogan saw little playing time in 2010-11, he was able to move past his injury, learn more about conditioning, and even get tips from the former Olympic pairs skater who has worked with several of the current Rangers players.
Yogan understands that parts of his game need to improve, and he is committed to making those improvements in order to reach the NHL and showcase his natural talent for scoring.
"I definitely have size to my advantage, so I like to use my size and I like to be a little physical," said Yogan. "But I love to score. That's why I play the game, and that's what I do. I put the puck in the back of the net. That's how I'm going to continue my game when I get up to Traverse City, and hopefully wherever I am next year. That's what I love to do."
When Yogan does get his shot at the NHL, he'll likely turn heads in that very firs opportunity, just as he did at Traverse City and in his AHL debut. When he reaches that first NHL moment, Yogan will immediately become one of the great by-products of the league's expansion of the 1990s -- particularly when he gets his first chance to skate against the Florida Panthers franchise that helped inspire him to choose hockey over other sports.