By Dave Frederick
The St. Louis Blues were fully aware of the risks involved when they decided to trade up six spots and draft defenseman Ian Cole 18th overall in the 2007 NHL draft.
After selecting Erik Johnson with the first overall pick the previous year, Blues management firmly believed the opportunity to obtain another highly skilled defenseman would help solidify their depth at that position for years to come. The potential reward was simply too much to pass up.
Just three years later, the Blues’ decision in drafting the Ann Arbor, Michigan native appears to have been the right one as Cole made the most of his first training camp with the team this past September. His competitiveness and natural ability forced the team to keep him around until the final roster moves were announced. Despite the difficult decision of sending Cole to the Peoria Rivermen of the American League, the Blues are confident this is the right path for the talented prospect.
“One of his strengths is his ability to move the puck out of his zone and neutral zone,” said Bill Armstrong, the Blues’ director of amateur scouting. “He puts the puck on the forward’s stick. He’s a puckmover. He has the ability to play the power play and is well-rounded with his size and strength. Ian’s a two-way defenseman who can play in all situations.”
At just 21 years of age, Cole is already an intimidating presence on the blueline. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound graduate of the U.S. national team development program now must work on finding cohesion in his game that should eventually come with playing quality minutes in the AHL.
“With young players that handle the puck a lot, there’s a certain maturity time that takes place,” Armstrong said. “He needs to find the consistent pattern that he can be at every game. It takes time. We don’t want to put a timetable on it. He could see action this year with the Blues or he might not see it for two years. It’s just one of those things since it takes defensemen longer to develop.”
After being drafted, Cole joined the University of Notre Dame, where he played for three seasons. In 111 games, he recorded 65 points, but left school after his junior season to sign with the Blues organization. Cole joined the Rivermen for nine games at the end of last season where he got a taste of the pro game and posted five points, but he is hungry for more and hopes his impressive training camp left a lasting impression with both the players and management in St. Louis.
“Being around those kind of players, like David Perron, David Backes, Eric Brewer, Barret Jackman, I learned a ton from them,” Cole said. “I watched how they prepare. Just watching them in practice every day was great. Hopefully I can take what I learned and put that into effect."
While Cole settles into his first full season as a professional, the Blues are wasting no time in asking him to assume a prominent role on the farm team to ensure he’ll be prepared for a call-up in the future.
“The team told me to go play big minutes in Peoria, to play in all situations and develop as a player,” Cole said. “Then maybe I can come up at some point and step in right away.”
So while Cole works on his game in Peoria and adapts to life as a professional, developing hockey player, he can’t help but think about the day every aspiring NHLer dreams of: his NHL debut.
“The last pre-season game I realized I could play in the NHL,” Cole said. “I can make the smart pass. I know I can play well in this league. My first game I would be so nervous realizing it’s not pre-season anymore. It would be the real deal. It would be much faster, but with my solid training camp, I learned I can play in this league and be very successful.”
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