Best/Worst of Both Worlds for Bardreau in Rookie Season with Phantoms

Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Cole Bardreau is becoming a more complete player with the Phantoms. Photo: Nina Weiss/The Home News
Editor's Note: This is the first of many player profile features that will be completed and posted online to give an accurate update on the players' development paths, skill set, potential NHL ceiling and more. Most player profiles will also include exclusive thoughts from both the player and the coaching staff with in-depth assessment/comments.

While he's not spoken of quite nearly as much as the other prospects in the Philadelphia Flyers' system, Cole Bardreau's style of play translates to the next level according to Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon. There's still work to be done to polish his game at the pro level, but it isn't out of the question that a guy like Bardreau can have an NHL future with the way he plays the game.

He's not going to wow you offensively, but that doesn't mean he can't shoot the puck and create offense. He doesn't play a flashy kind of game, rather his game is predicated on being strong on the puck and going to the hard areas to score while being very difficult and kind of annoying to play against.

Bardreau has the intangible qualities that are a great fit for the prototypical 4th line NHL forward. He kills penalties, plays a defense-first game and is reliable in the defensive zone while also being relentless on the fore-check and never afraid from engaging a puck battle or any physical confrontation. He's truly a coaches kind of player. The effort and energy is never lacking.

An in-depth look at what the Philadelphia Flyers have in Cole Bardreau, taking a look at his rookie season and what the future might hold for the former Cornell University product.

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The Basics

Player: Cole Bardreau
Position: Center
Height/Weight: 5-10, 193 pounds
How Acquired: Undrafted, signed entry-level contract March 12, 2015
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent in 2017-18

Skill Set: Hard-working, tenacious, in-your-face grinder type
NHL Comparable: Once compared his game/style of play to Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan
Potential NHL Ceiling: Bottom-six checking/energy guy, penalty killing forward 

Bardreau's Background

Cole Bardreau's hockey career has been full of ups and downs, and that sentiment continued to ring true in his first full season of professional hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers organization this season.

Once considered a highly touted prospect after helping Team USA win gold at the World Junior Championships alongside Flyers favorite Shayne Gostisbehere in 2013, a tragic injury just a few weeks after returning back to his college team Cornell nearly ended his hockey playing career. Going into the corner boards for a loose puck on January 19th, 2013 changed everything, though not at first glance for the then sophomore forward.

Bardreau went headfirst into the boards that game against RPI, but surprisingly finished the game - trying to play through what he thought was a minor ailment that would pass. He found out two days later - after reporting a stiff neck and some discomfort - that a precautionary X-ray showed a broken C7 vertebrae in two places in his neck.

He was told the injury nearly paralyzed him.

A surgery, several months in a neck brace unable to workout and subsequently a lengthy rehab period to work himself back into shape later he was playing hockey again for Cornell the next season, appearing in 26 games and tallying 16 points (seven goals, nine assists).

After finishing his senior season at Cornell, Bardreau had several offers - teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins, who he had previously attended development camps with - but ended up choosing the Flyers organization. The undrafted forward signed a two-year, entry-level contract with Philadelphia last spring and joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on an amateur tryout - appearing in the AHL club's final 15 games and tallying two points (one goal, one assist).

Bardreau's 2015-16 Season in Review

As previously mentioned in his background, injuries have halted his progression some in the past and while he was relatively healthy when he first arrived to the Phantoms in the spring of 2015 it was a rocky beginning for Bardreau in his first full season at the pro level.

After coming into camp in great physical shape, Bardreau suffered another unorthodox setback just three games into the season in an October 17th game against rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton - awkwardly cut by a skate that caused him to miss several weeks.

From bad to worse, Bardreau was back on the injured list in early November in his first game back after the skate cut on his forearm had healed. By the time he was back in the lineup again on December 11th he had appeared in just four of the team's first 25 games.

The real turning point in Bardreau's season came early in January up in Albany with the team in the midst of a three-in-three weekend. Entering the January 9th contest, Bardreau had points in three straight games and when he wasn't spotted on the ice for warm ups the injury concern was the initial go-to reaction. When head coach Scott Gordon confirmed post-game that Bardreau's absence was a coaches decision, it was quite possibly more concerning at the time than another injury for the rookie forward.

The reasoning was quite simple according to Gordon. He didn't like the way Bardreau was playing, particularly in the face-off circle, and decided to sit him in the middle game of the three-game weekend. The timing was right, and luckily for both Bardreau and the Phantoms the rookie heeded the message from Gordon.

Bardreau went on to play a much more complete game the rest of the month and caught fire offensively in reward for his hard work to turn things around. With 12 points (six goals, six assists) in 11 games, Bardreau was named the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for January - something he later credited to coach Gordon's conversation with him back in Albany.

Both Bardreau and the team were on a roll heading into the All-Star break in the beginning of February, with the team winning five straight entering the break and Bardreau with seven points (five goals, two assists) in those five games to finish out the month of January.

Perhaps the biggest blows to the Phantoms on the season came shortly after the 2016 AHL All-Star Classic in Syracuse. Anthony Stolarz and Nick Cousins, the Phantoms' All-Star representatives, were both called up to Philadelphia before Lehigh Valley's first game back - Cousins never to be seen in a Phantoms uniform the rest of the season. A week later Andrew MacDonald was back up with the Flyers for good, and Bardreau and the Phantoms struggled mightily.

For Bardreau, the bad numbers on the stat sheet was indicative of him caught trying to do a little too much on the ice with offensively minded players out of the lineup. He simply got away from his game a bit - what made him successful in January.

Struggling to provide offense as a team, Bardreau admitted in March he was pressing a little too much in the offensive zone and not playing to his strengths and not paying as much attention to the defensive side of the game as he should have.

With an infusion of some offensive talent on the AHL roster entering the final month, Bardreau seemed to finish strong like many of his teammates. It looked like he was back to understanding his role on the ice and playing it well, perhaps a good sign of things to come next fall.

Bardreau By The Numbers

2015-16 Season Stats: 54GP, 13G-17A, -1, 54 PIM
2015-16 Season Grade: B

October Grade: Incomplete
October Stats: 3 games played, 0G-1A, +3, 2 PIM

Bardreau got his feet wet at the pro level last spring, appearing in 15 games with the Phantoms. This season, the chippy bottom-six forward was cut by a skate in Wilkes-Barre on October 17th and is just now starting to skate in a yellow non-contact jersey.

November Grade: Incomplete
November Stats: 1GP, 0G-0A, Even, 2 PIM

After being cut by a skate on October 17th and missing three weeks, Bardreau was injured in his first game back on November 8th and hasn't played since. The good news is he is expected to return to game action this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow night against Hershey.

December Grade: B-
December Stats: 9GP, 1G-1A, -3, 0 PIM

Bardreau is starting to get into a rhythm now that he's been able to stay healthy, appearing in all nine of the Phantoms' last nine games. The gritty forward has been solid on the penalty kill and is starting to gain more ice time after missing a month with an injury.

January Grade: A+
January Stats: 11GP, 6G-6A, +11, 17 PIM

Bardreau was a healthy scratch on January 9th, as coach Scott Gordon said he was unhappy with his performance in the face-off circle. Since then, Bardreau has been a more complete player and is enjoying success - being named the AHL's Rookie of the Month for January.

Febraury Grade: C+
February Stats: 11GP, 2G-3A, -13, 7 PIM

After putting up 12 points (6G-6A) and a plus 11 rating in route to being named the AHL's Rookie of the Month for January, Bardreau had a pretty rough February with a minus 13 in 11 games last month despite putting up five points. Those are the ups and downs a first year pro goes through, and it will be interesting to see how Bardreau responds in March.

March Grade: B-
March Stats: 11GP, 2G-3A, -6, 15 PIM

Bardreau has had a whirlwind of ups and downs this season and is getting back to the basics - playing physical, working hard and consistently bringing pressure on every shift. His offensive game has come a long way and he's relied upon in the face-off circle - something he's worked on improving.

April Grade: B+
April Stats: 8GP, 2G-3A, +7, 11 PIM

Bardreau was getting back on track toward the end of the regular season, playing the way he has to to be successful - playing a simple game, being physical and tenacious on the fore-check and bringing energy. He just might have a future in the Flyers' bottom six someday.

Bardreau's Thoughts

On when he came to Lehigh Valley last spring versus now:
I think in the beginning when you first come in it's a big jump from college. There's a lot of changes - the guys make better plays, they're bigger, heavier, faster. For me, the biggest thing was getting to know the guys. As you can see, I'm one of the louder guys in the locker room. I like to be comfortable. This year I felt that a lot more. It's a lot easier to focus on hockey instead of making the transition.
On overcoming plenty of adversity to get here:
I think that's been my career in general is ups and downs. I think the players that go the furthest are the ones that can weather the storm when it's not going well and ride out the high points too. I didn't expect to have this kind of season, but happy to be more of a point producer this year and helping in more areas of the game.
On his CCM/AHL Rookie of The Month Award:
I feel more comfortable out there being more of an offensive threat, getting pucks to the net. I just had to change my game and I owe a lot of that to coach [Scott] Gordon, who sat me back in Albany which I think was huge for me. The way that I was playing wasn't going to work. I owe a lot of that rookie of the month to him, changing my game and simplifying it - getting pucks to the net using my good shot. It's been working for me.
On his self assessment of his game:
I'm pretty hard on myself with face-offs. Defense, I don't think that I'm where I need to be with that right now. A few penalty kills that I let up, my plus/minus is struggling a little bit but that's learning to weather the ups and downs and learning what you need to change to be able to acclimate.
On what he's looking to work on:
My defensive game, I need to tone that up. I've been pushing a little too much for offense as we have been struggling here and not taking pride in it, but not being on top of it the way I need to. I need to be a well-rounded player and I think that I still have a long way to go - both ends - but defensively I have a long ways to go.
Coaches Comments

Head Coach Scott Gordon

On Bardreau's transition:
His adjustment to the pro game, I found him to be a responsible player but I think at times earlier in the year he got distracted. When he first got back from injury, he looked like he knew what he was doing and then he'd miss an assignment. On face-offs, he wasn't at the level that he needed to be to have success.
On adjustments Bardreau has made at pro level:
Part of his ability to play on the power play [now] is because of the fact that he can win a face-off. When Timmy [Tim Brent] went down, it was a huge change for us to be able to put in a guy that we knew was going to be able to win the draw but also make a contribution on the power play which he has done - getting a couple goals and assists.
On Bardreau's progress this season:
I think overall, his game has developed from an offensive standpoint where he came from a school that's pretty defensive minded. He's getting his opportunities offensively and at the same time he's getting better defensively, so it's not just one area that he's made strides in, he's made a lot of strides in a 200-foot game.
On Bardreau's development path:
When you look at where you pencil yourself in as a first year player, generally the guys that are the offensive guys make it as offensive guys eventually if they're able to play both sides of the puck, but they usually start in a lesser role in the NHL and get their points and then a guy goes down with an injury and the next you know they're bumped up to the second line and maybe some power play and then they establish themselves as an offensive guy.
With Cole, his situation is different in that his best opportunity is going to be his tenacious work ethic, being good defensively, being a penalty killer, winning face-offs. Those are mostly things that are ethic related. He'll bring whatever skill he brings with him, but his NHL game will translate easily from here to there.
It's a lot harder for a guy that's got to go up and bring offense in the NHL - it doesn't always translate right away. But to be a hard worker, tenacious on the fore-check, go to the net, finish your checks, win face-offs - anybody can do that if they want to do that. The better you are at doing that, the better chance you have at succeeding in the NHL whether you are a point producer or not. Those areas, I feel Cole applies himself to all the time where sometimes the offensive players don't.
Final Analysis

Bardreau will return to the AHL with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the fall, the final year of his entry-level contract, looking to stay healthy and continue to develop his style of play - that hard-nosed, gritty, in-your-face type of game that NHL clubs are looking for in their bottom six.

He figures to be relied upon in all aspects of the game, with a focus on penalty killing and defensive zone face-offs. It's not out of the question for him to see some time on the man advantage as well, something he was able to do this past season.

Consistency is often talked about with younger players and Bardreau is no exception to that thinking. There are going to be ups and downs in a rookie season, but having gone through all of that before should provide him with enough experience to be a more consistent player in his second full season of pro hockey in 2016-17.


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