With an increased workload due to Carson Soucy’s injury, Ian Cole is in unfamiliar territory

Photo credit:© Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
6 months ago
The Carson Soucy injury, which is slated to keep the Canucks defender out of the lineup for up to two months, will undoubtedly have a major impact on the Vancouver blueline as a whole.
But no one is going to feel that impact more than Ian Cole, Soucy’s fellow free agent addition from this past summer.
With Soucy out for the time being, Cole slots in as the clear-cut number three on the defensive depth char, right behind Quinn Hughes and Filip Hronek.
That, in and of itself, isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for Cole. He’s arguably been the Canucks’ #3D since joining the team in October, and his 20:21 in average ice-time for 2023/24 thus far is in fact the third-highest on the team.
But with Soucy in the lineup, that workload was at least somewhat split along the left side of the blueline. Both at even-strength, and especially on the penalty kill. Minus Soucy, Cole’s played closer to an average of 22 minutes a night, and that’s where one has to start to wonder if this is a role the 34-year-old is up to.
Cole has traditionally found himself on the cusp of, or just outside, his team’s top-four throughout the majority of his career. One major exception can be found just last season, in which Cole’s 19:23 was the third-highest on the Tampa Bay Lightning after Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev.
So, no big deal, right? If Cole can handle #3 minutes on a playoff-bound Tampa roster all season long, he should be able to do the same for the Canucks over the course of Soucy’s injury, no?
Maybe. But maybe not.
One major difference in situation comes from the quality of the blueliners surrounding Cole, and especially those partnering with him.
In 2022/23 in Tampa Bay, Cole partnered with Erik Cernak for approximately 50% of his even-strength ice-time. Another 17% or so was played alongside Hedman and Sergachev.
There’s a significant difference in playing 20 minutes a night while supported by at least three Stanley Cup champion top-four defenders, and in playing 20 minutes a night while supported by the likes of Tyler Myers, Noah Juulsen, and Mark Friedman.
Which is not necessarily to say that Cole isn’t up for the task. Just that it’s new territory for him, and a definite increase in responsibility. His ability to take on this work, even over the next few weeks, will prove vital in the Canucks’ immediate fortunes.
Essentially, head coach Rick Tocchet and Co. are faced with two choices here.
One is to leave Cole in somewhat familiar territory by pairing him with Hronek. This is what the Canucks have done in two of the games since Soucy exited the lineup, and it’s definitely more in line with what Cole experienced last year in Tampa.
Over those two games, Cole and Hronek’s mutual Corsi was in excess of 57% against largely top-six competition, which is nothing to sneeze at.
But this option comes with the unavoidable and obvious consequence of breaking up the Hughes-Hronek pairing which, prior to now, had been the most effective pairing in the entire NHL. That’s not a decision to be taken lightly, especially if it’s going to be for a period equivalent to more than a quarter of the regular season.
The alternative is to pair Cole with any of that smorgasbord of RHDs that probably shouldn’t be in the top-four: Myers, Friedman, and Juulsen.
On this front, Cole has already had some notable success. He’s played 102 5v5 minutes with Friedman thus far on the season, and has a +3 rating and a 53.1% Corsi. Cole has 85 5v5 minutes alongside Myers, and together they’re +1 and a 47.1% Corsi.
It’s worth noting, actually, that Cole’s Corsi rating is higher alongside all three of Friedman, Myers, and Juulsen than it is alongside Hronek. But it’s also definitely worth noting that a lot of those minutes came both against lesser competition and with Soucy in the lineup to help share the overall workload.
The question remains: can Cole carry any of these RHD for the next two months? And can he do so with enough effectiveness to allow the coaching staff to keep rolling out that Hughes-Hronek top pairing, something that surely everyone would like to happen?
If he can, it’ll be a fairly new accomplishment. Cole’s carried pairings before. In 2021/22 he spent most of his time alongside occasional forward Brendan Smith, and in 2020/21 he spent the whole year taking care of a sophomore Soucy in Minnesota. But those pairings were decidedly outside of the top-four, and they weren’t expected to handle big minutes against top-six competition.
Doing that, and doing so as the strong side of the pairing, is what the Canucks now need from Cole. Not for forever, necessarily, but for long enough that his success at the task will go a long way to determining the Canucks’ fate in the standings over the next few weeks.
It’s either Cole steps into this role, or he gets Hronek as a partner and Hughes is left to fend for himself on the top pairing.
One outcome is undoubtedly better for the Canucks as a whole. But time will have to tell whether this old dog (intended complimentary) is up for some new tricks.

Check out these posts...