The Pittsburgh Penguins made a savvy deal Monday, re-signing blueliner Ian Cole to a three-year deal that carries a cap hit of $2.1 million per season. Cole came over to the Penguins from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline and registered one goal and eight points in 20 games, adding another two points in five post-season outings.
The Penguins acquired Cole, 26, at the trade deadline this past season in a deal that sent Robert Bortuzzo and a seventh-round draft pick in 2016 to St. Louis. Cole was a first-round selection, 18th overall, of the Blues in 2007, but on a crowded Blues blueline that included Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk, there wasn’t room to keep Cole around.
Cole’s new contract, however, makes him cap-friendly for a young defenseman with what looks to be good potential. His three-year contract carries an annual cap hit of $2.1 million.
In Pittsburgh, Cole seems like a natural fit. While he’s not the most offensively gifted rearguard in the league, his skating and ability to contribute a few points here and there make him perfect as a top-four defender for the Penguins. After skating little more than 15 minutes per game in his past two seasons in St. Louis, Cole immediately had his ice time bumped to nearly 18:30 minutes per game in Pittsburgh.
“Any time you get traded, you’re not really sure how it’s going to work out,” Cole told the Penguins’ Michelle Crechiolo. “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.”
Not only did Cole see a difference in his minutes, but his usage also changed quite a bit. With St. Louis, Cole was used in a lot of defensive zone situations, beginning many of his shifts in the Blues’ zone. During that time, however, Cole proved his ability to move the puck and shift possession in St. Louis’ favor. That continued in Pittsburgh, though in a much different manner.
When coming over to the Penguins, Cole was utilized much more often in the offensive zone. Over his 54 games with the Blues, Cole posted a shot attempts for percentage of 53.1 at 5-on-5. In Pittsburgh, that percentage leapt to 57.6 over 20 games, an outstanding mark for a defenseman coming over to a new system. He did, however, have the benefit of starting roughly 10 percent more shifts in the offensive zone than his teammates.
Offensively, the increased attacking zone time paid dividends for both Cole and the Penguins. In 2014-15, with the Blues, Cole had managed four goals and nine points, but notched one goal and eight points in 34 fewer games with the Penguins.
In the post-season, Cole was relied upon heavily, partially due to injuries on the Penguins’ backend. In Pittsburgh’s five-game defeat at the hands of the New York Rangers, Cole averaged 23 minutes per night and amassed two assists.
“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 told Crechiolo. “You want to come out and continue to impress and really take that and run with it as best you can.”