Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cole's time has finally arrived

Team's 2007 No. 1 pick has best
chance to make Blues' top six on D

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ian Cole has been through this routine before.

But this time, the Blues' defenseman fully understands this is the best chance of his short career to make the ultimate opportunity stick.

Cole, the 18th pick in the 2007 NHL Draft who will switch from No. 23 to No. 28 this season, was part of each of the last two training camps with the Blues. He was realistic about his chances of making the big club two seasons ago ... he knew it was a longshot. Last year, Cole was optimistic but knew it was a 50/50 proposition. Still, getting the news you're going to start the season in the American Hockey League was never easy to take.

(Getty Images)
A position among the team's top six defensemen is Ian
Cole's to win or lose when camp opens this weekend.

Cole did play 26 games in each of the last two seasons with the Blues. There were ups and there were downs. But since it looks more and more unlikely the Blues will be able to trade for a top-pairing left-handed defenseman they had been seeking since the summer, Cole's chances to be among the top six have never been better.

"I'm obviously extremely excited to go into any camp, but I think now there's actually -- not that there wasn't before -- but I think now there's much more of an opportunity to get that chance to play consistent minutes, consistent games ... to not kind of being on the outside looking in," said the Ann Arbor, Mich. native, who dressed in two playoff games a season ago. "I've hopefully played myself into that lineup that plays consistently every night. That would be ideal.

"No one's happy being on the outside, being the seventh guy, not playing. My goal is to try and definitely get into that lineup. It's not going to just be handed to me or to anybody. It needs to be worked for and needs to be proven that you can be dependable and coaches can depend on you to be consistent every night. That's what I've got to do here for the next two weeks."

Along with 2010 14th overall pick Jaden Schwartz, Cole had been toiling with the American Hockey League's Peoria Rivermen, rounding his game into form during the NHL lockout playing in 34 games. Cole, according to coach Ken Hitchcock, was playing between 25-28 minutes a game and in all important aspects.

"I was playing a lot, first power play, first on the penalty kill," Cole said. "... I'm not disillusioned thinking that I'm going to play those minutes here. I'm not disillusioned into thinking I'm going to be playing the first power play here. But at the same time, those minutes and those experiences just turns me into a more well-rounded player."

Cole, who has two goals and 10 points and is a plus-13 in his NHL career, has the upper hand on the sixth spot in the lineup over veteran Jeff Woywitka, who was brought back to the Blues as a free agent this past summer to provide depth.

"Obviously he's one of the seven guys here right now, so we expect him to have a good camp, we expect him to play," Hitchcock said of Cole. "How much and where is going to be totally on his shoulders.

"We don't know what level he's going to be at. We're assuming all the minutes he played down there and all the situations, he's going to be a more comfortable player. But this is his first time where he's going to be leaned on to be a regular. We're hopeful that he grabs that ball and really runs with it."

Which is what Cole plans on doing, but he knows what he has to keep doing: continue to play positive, consistent minutes.

"I think I am more consistent," Cole said. "I think I am able to recover from mistakes a lot better.

"Early in my career, even high school and early on in college, I think I would get really rattled if I made a mistake. Hockey's a game of mistakes. Mistakes are bound to happen. How you respond to that, whether you dwell on that mistake or compound that mistake into five, six more mistakes or you just cut it off there and play a good rest of the game. That's something I've really tried to work on, not getting affected, not losing my head per say over one mistake that can easily be let go."

Blues brass, including Hitchcock and the team's assistant coaches, were on hand for a number of games in Peoria to scout out the franchise's talent, including Cole. What Hitchcock has taken away from Cole's play since he's been here has been anywhere from spectacular to up and down.

"The top-end that I've seen Ian play at, he's been very impressive," Hitchcock said. "What we've got to get is a consistent level in his play. He's got to find that and we've got to help him find that.

"When he played well down in the American League, he was a cut above. That's impressive. He was physically a cut above, he was able to move the puck, he got out of trouble, he was really smart with it, and when he plays that way, that's going to make him a very effective NHL player. But there were times he wasn't as consistent as he should be. Working with (assistant coach) Brad (Shaw) here is going to be a major factor. Every time he gets around Brad, he gets better. Those two guys have a good working relationship and hopefully he can continue that and get better every day."

It's not likely that Cole will play with Alex Pietrangelo, but he could find himself on a pairing with Kevin Shattenkirk and that wouldn't be bad since the two were partners on the United States' Under-17 and 18 Developmental Program.

And considering the NHL season will be a blur with only a 48-game season, plus playoffs, Cole is ready to tackle any challenge head-on.

"It's going to be a grind, it's going to be quick, it's going to be fast," Cole said. "It's going to be right away ... everything you've got. It'll be good.

"I think it'll be easier to slide in like a glove since I was playing games. I don't know if it's going to be that perfect necessarily, but after playing however many games it was (in Peoria), it'll be a little bit easier definitely getting the pace. ... I felt good today. I felt like I had legs, I felt like I wasn't getting tired. I've been through full practices for a while and I felt good. I don't know about everybody else, but speaking for myself, I felt good and I'm looking forward to what's ahead."

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