Erik Cole might be one of the new guys in town wearing a Red Wings sweater, but he’s hardly a stranger to his new teammates in the D.
Players know. They know which other players around the league are important to their teams and why. They know who might be prone to take a shift off, and who’s going to bring it hard every single time he takes the ice. They know which guys they have to be careful of and which ones they can push around.
That alone is enough to understand why Wings players — to a man — were thrilled to learn that Cole would be joining them for the stretch drive of what’s turning out to be a very special season in Hockeytown.
Cole, 36, joined the Red Wings on March 1, when they traded two Swedish prospects and a conditional draft pick to Dallas. And what overjoyed the Wings was that he was acquired without having to part with anyone from the Detroit roster.
“We like our chemistry here,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall, the assistant captain. “We’ve got a good thing going here.”
Kronwall knows. Since he broke into the NHL in the 2003-04 season, he’s seen a fair amount of Cole, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound right wing who’s played for Carolina, Edmonton, Montreal and Dallas since he started in the league in 2001.
Asked to describe what Cole would bring to the Wings, Kronwall gave a scouting report worthy of a veteran NHL scout: “Speed, smart with the puck, well-earned blue-collar work ethic, and willingness to go into the hard areas. He will take a hit to make a play and give a hit, too. He plays to win every second he’s on the ice. And leadership. He’s a guy who leads by example. He’ll fit right in here.”
That he did. Playing on a line with captain Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, Cole has solidified a second scoring line that’s full of hard-hitting grit — a stark contrast from the speed and finesse of Detroit’s other scoring line of Pavel Datsyuk between Darren Helm and Tomas Tatar.
In his first four games with the Wings, Cole had three assists. In 57 games for Dallas before coming to Detroit, he had 18 goals among 33 points.
Born in Oswego, N.Y., Cole is no stranger to Wings coach Mike Babcock, either. The two spent a season in the minors together with Cincinnati of the International Hockey League in 2000-01, when Babcock was a young coach in Cole’s last season in the minors.
In addition to Cole, the Wings acquired defenseman Marek Zidlicky from New Jersey at the deadline, and the two made their Detroit debut on March 4 against the New York Rangers. Zidlicky scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
Both basked in the joy showered on the team by Joe Louis Arena fans.
Cole said he’s always enjoyed playing in Detroit, but it’s even better now.
“It’s a great experience to play in this arena, especially being on the home team,” he said. “It’s a lot better playing here when all that noise is supporting you instead of raining down on you.”
“And to play on one of the Original Six teams. There’s so much history here. Wearing the winged wheel is a proud moment for me in my career.”