Making The Case For Cole Sillinger To Be On The Opening Night Roster

By Jacob Nitzberg on September 27, 2021 at 2:48 pm
Cole Sillinger controls the puck.
Columbus Blue Jackets/Twitter

It's quite a tall ask for an 18-year-old to play NHL minutes.

However, the Blue Jackets find themselves in a situation that might see them ask Cole Sillinger to do it. 

Simply put, the Blue Jackets' depth at center is non-existent. Max Domi is injured, which leaves first-year head coach Brad Larsen with Jack Roslovic, Boone Jenner, Alexandre Texier, and Sean Kuraly as his options. 

Roslovic is practically a lock to center the first line, and there's a high chance that Kuraly will center the fourth line. With that in mind, the Blue Jackets could choose to deploy Jenner and Texier at the other two spots. The other option is giving a chance to Sillinger. If he plays 2C or 3C, Jenner could move to the wing, where he's looked more comfortable over the course of his career. In the Blue Jackets' first preseason game tonight, Sillinger will center a line with Gregory Hofmann on his left, and Yegor Chinakhov on his right.

Sillinger would be in great company if he's able to make his Blue Jackets debut at 18. Players like Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk, Sidney Crosby, Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman, and Ray Bourque all made their debuts at the same age.

The Blue Jackets are not expected to be successful this year. Virtually every media outlet and pundit has predicted them to finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division. However, they can still accomplish a key goal, which is the continued development of their young prospects like Sillinger. There is a caveat, though. If Sillinger makes the team out of training camp, it shouldn't be to play 10 to 12 minutes a night on the fourth line. In that case, he'd be better off playing first-line minutes down in the AHL.

An example of a team stunting development by putting an 18-year-old in the NHL (but on the fourth line) can be found with Jesse Puljujarvi and the Edmonton Oilers. Blue Jackets fans can remember when Jarmo Kekalainen shocked the hockey world by taking Pierre-Luc Dubois with the third pick in the 2016 NHL draft, rather than Puljujarvi, who fell to the Oilers with the fourth pick.

Edmonton gave him a roster spot right away, but he only played 11:15 a night, notching one goal in 28 games while splitting time between the NHL and AHL. In his sophomore season, he was a little bit better, notching 12 goals in 65 games while averaging two minutes more of ice time per game. Then, in Puljujarvi's third year, he saw his average ice time fall by a minute and a half as he scored four goals in 46 games. Finally, this past season, his average ice time increased to 15:08 as he notched 15 goals in 55 games. Last year was the first season where Puljujarvi consistently played in Edmonton's top-six group.

The Blue Jackets can learn from the Puljujarvi situation. It's not worth it to promote a young talent if they're not going to be developing their game. At 18, Sillinger deserves the chance to use and refine his skill with the puck. Playing on the fourth line while averaging low TOI will not help him in the long run.

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