Opportunities to make a big impression in the NHL do not come around often. Nor are they easily earned. But if another season killing lockout can be avoided St. Louis Blues defenseman Ian Cole is primed for such a chance during the 2012-13 campaign.
With former teammate Carlo Colaiacovo moving on to officially Detroit Friday a spot in the everyday lineup is Cole’s to lose. At least that’s the inference to be made based upon comments from the coaching staff and front office management over the last few months. However, as possible as that scenario may be, it could not come to fruition. Should fellow lefties Kris Russell or Jeff Woywitka outshine the Ann Arbor, MI native, the departure of last summer’s veteran depth addition, Kent Huskins, and the lack of significant offseason transactions indicates he’ll at least lay claim to the seventh defenseman opening.
One way or another, Cole will be in St. Louis full time. One cog in a well oiled machine (one that won the Central Division and finished 2nd in the Conference last season) with a simple task optimized for a player of his athletic abilities. The question is, just what can be expected of the 18th overall pick in the 2007 draft?
A deeper review of what the team expects from him is needed to find the answer.
Throughout the offseason General Manager Doug Armstrong was not shy in relating his perspective on the team’s personnel needs to achieve greater success. To summarize, the Blues are set in net and up front, but could use another effective, minute munching defenseman who can excel in the system head coach Ken Hitchcock has put in place. This lead to speculation of interest in slick skating options like Calgary’s Jay Bouwmeester and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle via trade. In terms of free agents on the open market rumors pointed to former Panthers cannoneer Jason Garrison as well as the deft puck mover from the Flyers, Matt Carle and the reliable Senator, Filip Kuba. Though there would be some logical rationale in acquiring veteran defensive specialists with a physical edge like Bryan Allen, Andy Sutton, or Greg Zanon they just didn’t have the legs to run at the preferred pace of play.
Whether it was inability or inflexibility that led to none of the named above coming to the gateway city is irrelevant at this point. Clearly the cost to acquire — in contract term, salary, or trade assets — wasn’t worth the production received in return. Not when considering the amount of money that may have to be dolled out in one year to several key restricted free agents.
Though the goal of the search was not reached as quickly as most would desire, it does outline what the Blues are looking for out of the next defenseman added to the core of Alex Pietrangelo, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Roman Polak. A defenseman who can be counted one to reliably transition the play forward while possessing the hockey sense and physical tools to execute in all facets of the 200 foot game.
In three seasons as a pro, split between Peoria and St. Louis, Cole has demonstrated that his athletic skill set meets criteria. While he is not as quick and doesn’t exhibit the same brute force as Polak, he is not that far behind the. His overall mobility is not at Russell’s level, but comparisons to Jay McKee won’t be drawn either. Anecdotally, flashes of the appropriate on the ice IQ have been seen, but haven’t been prolonged. Cole has been prone do poor decision making, the hit on Detroit’s Justin Abdelkader and a run on lazy stick infractions due to being out of position as examples, at both the AHL and NHL level.
For those mistakes, when Cole has been a positive influence on a game at the big league level he has been along side Pietrangelo. Not too surprising considering the effect No. 27 had on his last partner, Colaiacovo. It’s a place where Cole may find himself regularly if he comes in to the season (whenever it actually starts) with a better head on his shoulders. Which is something the young defender should have considering the experience gained since going pro in 2009. Assuming Cole does, then the rest should take care of itself and he should be well on his way to making a big splash.
If the Blues do play in 2012-13, what do you expect out of Cole?
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