It’s been quite a few days for Ian Cole. After getting married on Saturday, the defenseman called Monday to discuss another big life event – signing a three-year contract extension with the Penguins.
“I didn’t have any interest in going anywhere else,” said Cole, who would have become a restricted free agent on July 1. “Really, really wanted to make it work and we were able to do that fairly quickly, so it was a great situation all the way around.”
Cole joined the Pens after being acquired from St. Louis, the team that drafted him in the first round (18th overall) of the 2007 NHL Draft, in exchange for Robert Bortuzzo and a 2016 7th-round pick on March 2 – and quickly fell in love with both the city and the organization.
“Any time you get traded, you’re not really sure how it’s going to work out,” said the 26-year-old Michigan native. “There’s actually a lot of apprehension, a lot of uncharted territory. But I was just so fortunate that I was welcomed in immediately and just obviously had a great experience. I can’t say enough about the team and the guys in that room and the staff and the organization.”
While the big blueliner had been playing well in St. Louis before the trade, notching nine points (4G-5A) and posting a plus-16 rating in 54 games, Cole still found himself a healthy scratch a few times throughout the year because of the incredible depth on the Blues’ back end. But after arriving in Pittsburgh, Cole was forced to immediately step into a much larger role because of injuries – and he thrived.
In the 20 regular-season games following his arrival, Cole paced all Pens defensemen with seven assists and eight points – and only Sidney Crosby, Patric Hornqvist and Brandon Sutter had more points overall during that span.
But perhaps most notably, Cole saw a huge increase in his ice time – going from 15:04 minutes per game with the Blues to 18:29 with the Pens. And during the playoffs, Cole ranked second among Pens defensemen in time on ice – averaging 23 minutes while skating a team-high 30.4 shifts per game.
“(The injuries) were obviously extremely unfortunate because I’m sure that really could have helped us as a team down the stretch into the playoffs, but that being said, injuries tend to make a lot of opportunities for a lot of other people,” Cole said of his success.
“I think that it was something where I really matured as a player the past couple years, and just having the opportunity to fill that (role) night in and night out for as many minutes I was playing in the situations I was playing, it was just a really great opportunity to showcase that.”
And now that his contract situation is taken care of, starting this fall Cole is looking forward to building off the way he finished last season.
“Obviously when you get traded, you really want to impress everybody. And that continues now into this new contract too, where you just want to impress everybody and you want to make sure the team feels they made the right move believing in you and signing you for a three-year deal,” Cole said. “You want to come out and continue to impress and really take that and run with it as best you can.”
It will certainly help that now Cole actually has time to get settled in his new city and will have the benefit of a full season – including training camp.
“I can bring more than a hockey bag full of clothes,” joked Cole, who trains in Chicago during the offseason and plans to return to Pittsburgh sometime in August. “It’ll be great to get settled in, hang out with the guys, skate with them and get to spend a lot of time in Pittsburgh and really get to know the people and the team and the organization.”