ST. LOUIS — Injuries among St. Louis Blues defensemen have become an unwelcome tradition in recent seasons, but each one provides an opportunity for someone else.
Defenseman Jordan Leopold suffered a significant ligament injury to his right hand last Thursday and will undergo surgery expected to keep him out at least eight weeks.
This time the opportunity is being presented to Ian Cole.
"He's going to be operated on this week and we'll reevaluate him in two months, see how it goes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Leopold. "He has a ligament issue and we need to get it solved right now so that he's back playing during the season.
"We'll get him looked at here and have that operation done as quickly as possible and then he'll be back playing, hopefully, in two months."
Leopold had no goals and two assists in 13 games and was injured in the third period of the Blues' game last Thursday against Calgary.
He also missed the Blues' game Saturday against the Penguins, with Cole filling in.
"I'm not sure how the injury happened, but he told me he felt it during the game," Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong said.
Now the 24-year-old Cole steps in and Armstrong said as of now, there are no plans to call up another defenseman from minor-league Chicago.
"Ian has been working towards this moment now for a while and he's going to get a great opportunity," Armstrong said. "He's now one of six defensemen that we're going to rely on. We'll go with this six and I want to keep the guys playing that are playing in Chicago right now."
If the Blues did choose to call someone up from Chicago, Hitchcock mentioned Taylor Chorney as one possibility. But as Armstrong pointed out, the Blues could recall another defenseman from Chicago at any time and get them wherever they needed to go because of the numerous flight options.
Cole played in only two of the Blues' first 14 games, Oct. 18 vs. Winnipeg and Nov. 2 against Tampa Bay, before stepping in for Leopold on Saturday against Pittsburgh.
"I know it's an opportunity that he wants and he's going to be given that until Leopold come back or we make other decision," Armstrong said. "But right now it's Ian's job."
Cole was the 18th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft. He has no points in three games this season and two goals and 11 points in 70 career games with the Blues.
"There has been at times such long periods between each game that I've played," Cole said. "The mental side of it as far as trying to keep up with the pace that it takes to play in the NHL is the hardest part. You're still skating and working out every day, you're still in great shape and the legs feel fine.
"But as far as playing and being able to make plays in situations you don't get into in practice...in game situations which are so foreign when you're not playing, I think that's the hardest part."
"Ian's really helped himself here by his attitude and everything," Hitchcock said of Cole, relegated to reserve status since the acquisition of veteran defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Leopold last season. "He's ready to go, so I don't see us missing a beat."
Cole recalled a previous game against the star-studded Penguins earlier in his career.
"One of the last times that I was playing regularly, and one of the highlights so far in my career, was being able to play against the Penguins in Pittsburgh," Cole said, "getting to play with (Alex Pietrangelo) and playing against (Sidney) Crosby all night and effectively shutting him down, keeping him off the scoreboard.
"I can think back on that game and be proud of the game that I put forth."
* In other Blues' injury news Monday, veteran winger Brenden Morrow (upper-body injury) was activated from injured reserve and skated on the fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves at practice.
Morrow said he felt strong could be ready to return as early as Tuesday against Phoenix.
"Brenden feels good," Hitchcock said of Morrow, who has two goals and three points in nine games.
Injuries to Morrow and forward Magnus Paajarvi led to the promotions of Adam Cracknell and Porter from Chicago. Porter was reassigned to the minors on Monday.
"I think that's one of the strengths of our franchise right now is our depth -- and right now we're putting it to the test," Armstrong said. "One of the things we wanted to accomplish in the summer was to provide depth in every area and when Morrow and Paajarvi went down, we had NHL players with experience ready."