Off-side: A history of Ian Cole’s ability to play on the right

Photo credit:© Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
8 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks need to do a little bit of balancing before opening night of the 2023/24 season and, for once, we’re not talking about the salary cap.
Instead, we’re talking about blueline balance, which means that what we’re really talking about is handedness.
The Canucks used this summer’s free agency class to supplement the left side of their D corps, which already featured the Norris-vote-receiving Quinn Hughes in the top slot. Veterans Carson Soucy and Ian Cole were added on short-term contracts, along with journeyman Matt Irwin, who will compete with the likes of Christian Wolanin, Guillaume Brisebois, and Jack Rathbone for time.
In other words, the left is taken care of.
The right, on the other hand? Not so much. There, the Canucks have the recently-acquired Filip Hronek, the expiring contract of Tyler Myers, the LTIRed Tucker Poolman, and then AHL tweener Noah Juulsen is next in line.
The depth of the two units stands in sharp contrast.
There may still be time on the clock for the Canucks to add another RHD to the mix, but as of now, there’s no budget for it. And so, the Canucks will quite possibly have to seek out an internal solution, and that probably means having one of those LHD play on the right.
Fortunately, when both Soucy and Cole were signed, it was noted that both of them “had the ability” to play on their off-side. But how true is that, really?
In a new two-part series, we’ll take on their individual blueline history one at a time, and do our best to determine which of the two is most capable of covering minutes on the right side.
We begin with the much lengthier history of the 34-year-old Cole, in reverse order.

Ian Cole: 2022/23

Now, part of the issue preventing this from being a simple investigation is that nobody really keeps track of which side of the ice a blueliner plays on any given night.
NHL lineup sheets typically slot forwards into LW, C, and RW categories, but leave all defenders marked as just D, and that makes it hard to figure out where a blueliner was playing if one doesn’t have the time to actually go back and watch all the games.
Thankfully, there are some tools on our side, starting with Dobber’s Frozen Tools, which do a masterful job of capturing who defenders share the blueline with each shift.
Here’s what that looked like for Cole in 2022/23 with the Tampa Bay Lightning:
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Here, we can see that Cole shared almost half of his even-strength time alongside Erik Cernak, a veteran RHD, and another 11% with rookie RHD Nick Perbix. It’s safe to assume that, for the majority of this time, Cole stayed on his natural left side of the ice.
Cole’s next two most-frequent partners, however, were Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev at about 8.5% each, both of whom shoot left.
With Hedman, it appears to be that case that Cole would typically switch sides whenever the two were paired together, which only happened for a few full games and then other in-game situations.
With Sergachev, it’s more difficult to figure out, as Sergachev is also a LHD who doesn’t mind playing the right. Here, it does appear that out of the two, Cole was the one who switched most frequently, but this partnership featured plenty of swapping around…and only really happened randomly in game situations, anyway.
It’s probably worth noting that Cole’s on-ice results seemed to dip when paired with another LHD, especially when it came to shot control and Corsi. When we’re only talking about sample sizes of about 100 minutes each, however, it’s tough to draw any hard conclusions.
Shorthanded, the situation was much the same, with Cole mostly partnering with Cernak on his natural side, but also occasionally taking PKs on the right alongside Hedman and/or Sergachev.
It’s a limited amount of work on the right, and perhaps not enough to say that Cole is ready for a pairing with Hughes.
The good news is, Cole’s history stretches back a lot longer than just 2023/24.

Cole in Prior Seasons

Cole has bounced around a lot over his 13-year NHL career. And wherever he’s gone, he’s often been asked to play on the right side.
His 2021/22 campaign with the Carolina Hurricanes saw Cole split his even-strength time fairly evenly between four primary partners in Brendan Smith, Ethan Bear, Jaccob Slavin, and Tony DeAngelo.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
For that 29.5% of minutes spent with Smith, Cole was not only supporting another LHD, he was supporting one who frequently drew into the lineup as a grinding winger. Most often, it would be Cole covering the right side in that situation, and the two somehow managed some incredible results together.
Bear, DeAngelo, and Jalen Chatfield kept Cole on his natural side for about half his ice-time. But much of the rest came with Slavin, a premium LHD who combined with Cole to form a an effective shutdown pairing of sorts.
For those keeping track at home, that’s two star LHDs in two years that Cole has successfully partnered with from the right.
It was also Cole and Slavin who did the majority of the penalty killing for Carolina this year, which is good news for the Canucks, because the right side of the PK might be where they need Cole most in 2023/24.
The 2020/21 season is fun, because Cole spent the bulk of it on the Minnesota Wild, where he spent 71% of his even-strength ice-time paired with…Carson Soucy!
Here, we get the early answer to the question of which of the two is best suited to switch sides, because it was Cole playing the majority of the time on the right in this situation.
To be fair, Soucy was an NHL sophomore, and he may have got better at playing the right since then (more on that in a day or two). But the point still stands that, when paired together, it was Cole sliding over to the right, not Soucy.
Those two also stuck together on the PK, and though they were clearly third in the rotation after Ryan Suter/Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin/Matt Dumba, they only allowed two shorthanded goals all year.
On and on it goes, throughout Cole’s 13 years in the league.
In Colorado, he frequently partnered with lefties Nikita Zadorov and Ryan Graves, but also with Tyson Barrie and Erik Johnson.
In Pittsburgh and Columbus, Cole played almost exclusively on the left. But in St. Louis, where Cole spent his first five seasons, he regularly played on the right side of defenders like Barrett Jackman and Rob Scuderi.
In other words, playing on the right is something that Cole has been doing since he entered this league, right up until the modern day.


At the end of the day, it would still probably be better for the Canucks to have enough natural RHDs of NHL quality to fill out their blueline. But if they had to pick a LHD to play on their off-side, they got about as good as they could have in Ian Cole, and the results of this brief examination have to be considered encouraging.
If Cole is going to partner with Hughes on the top pairing, we know that’s something in his wheelhouse, as he’s recently done so with all-star LHDs in Hedman and Slavin.
If the Canucks instead elect to go with a super-pairing of Hughes and Hronek, leaving Cole to partner with Soucy, that’s alright, too, because Cole has already spent an entire season covering a much less-seasoned Soucy from the right.
And if none of that works out and Cole remains on the left, partnered with Hronek or Myers or even Juulsen? That’s okay, too. Cole isn’t a “LHD that actually prefers the right.” He’s a defender who appears to be able to play in any situation with equal aplomb, no matter the partner, the game situation, or the side of the ice.
Tune in later this week to see if the same can be said about Carson Soucy.
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