Having spent his entire career in the Western Conference up until today, Ian Cole hadn’t seen all that much of the Penguins. But the defenseman gained a firsthand appreciation for his new team after they beat his former one, the Blues, by a score of 4-2 just over a week ago on Feb. 21.
“In St. Louis we had a very good team,” Cole said. “And obviously, without a doubt, the Pens were one of the best teams we’ve played all year. You really get a feel for it when you’re able to play them rather than just watch them on TV or see the highlights or whatever.
“From everything I saw, without a doubt, they have a very, very good chance to win a Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh and that’s something I’m really, really excited about.”
The Pens acquired Cole from St. Louis for Robert Bortuzzo before Monday’s trade deadline in order to bolster their depth and add more of a veteran presence to their blue line. It’s the first time Cole has dealt with this situation in his career, as he’d been in the Blues organization ever since they drafted him in the first round (18th overall) back in 2007.
“It’s been a crazy day,” the 26-year-old Michigan native said with a laugh. “We got back from Vancouver at like 7:30 in the morning. We flew all night and I was trying to catch up on a little bit of sleep, and then found out I got traded. It was a whirlwind. It’s been crazy, but it’s been really good. It’s definitely something that I’m very excited about. Really looking forward to the opportunity.”
Fortunately, Cole will have a few familiar faces both in the locker room and on the bench when he goes to meet the team on Tuesday in Colorado. Maxim Lapierre was acquired from St. Louis earlier this season, assistant coach Gary Agnew spent the last two seasons with the Blues and David Perron was drafted 26th overall the same year as Cole.
“’Lappy’ just left this year, so I’m close to him,” Cole said. “He texted me right away. I played with ‘Perry’ for two or three years, my first couple of years. ‘Ags’ was there last year as well, so I know them all very well. I’ve heard the team has great chemistry in the locker room and that it’s a great bunch of guys, so really looking forward to it.”
Cole has played in 54 games with the Blues this season, notching nine points (4G-5A) and posting a plus-16. His plus-16 ranked third on St. Louis and second among team blueliners. Only Paul Martin (+20) has a higher total among Penguins players.
“He’s been in the league and has some good experience and has played extremely well this year,” Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford said of Cole, who had been scratched a handful of times this season in St. Louis.
“You look at St. Louis’ defense and that’s a very experienced, almost star-studded defense. So you can understand why sometimes he may be in and out of the lineup. He brings good depth to our blue line. He’s had a very good year this year and we hope that continues here.”
The Pens’ system is built on possession and defenseman that can move the puck and join the rush. And while Cole said he probably won’t be leading the rush like Kris Letang, he feels comfortable in that style of play.
“It’s the way we played in St. Louis,” he said. “Up-tempo, fast, go. It is my job to get the puck back, get it up in our forwards’ hands as soon as possible and with the caliber of forwards we have in Pittsburgh, to let them go to work, let them do their job, let them create as they can do so well. Certainly will try to aid in the transition game and help as best I can.”
When he’s at his best, Cole – who’s got size at 6-foot-1, 219 pounds in addition to his skating – said he’s a two-way defenseman that’s tough to play against.
“First and foremost defending, defending hard, tight gap, physical, strong and getting the puck out of our end, just transitioning quickly up into our forwards’ hands,” he said of his biggest strengths. “And then in my own way, try to help out offensively a little bit. Is it my primary role? Probably not. But looking forward to helping out a little bit and getting to play some great defense with these guys.”