Cole Sillinger continues to exceed expectations.
After dominating the Traverse City prospects tournament and later training camp, the Columbus Blue Jackets had no choice but to keep Sillinger the 18-year old on the opening night roster.
#CBJ HC Brad Larsen on Cole Sillinger: "I told him today, I keep looking at it, trying to get rid of you, and I cant. Even in his games where I would say he didnt have the energy, he still thinks it really well. He still provides something for you as a team. pic.twitter.com/6dLkYsGNvT— Hockey Hound (@HockeyHoundShow) October 11, 2021
Fast forward a month and change and it's hard to imagine the Blue Jackets without their young star. Through 16 games, Sillinger has tallied 4-4-8 while playing major minutes alongside veteran winger Jakub Voracek in a top-six capacity. He's already made an exclusive list of 18-year olds in franchise history. Sillinger is just the sixth 18-year-old to play for the club, joining Rostislav Klesla (2000), Rick Nash (2002), Dan Fritsche (2003), Gilbert Brule (2005) and Nikita Filatov (2008). Of the group, he was the fourth youngest to make his debut at 18 years, 151 days. Only Klesla (18-88), Nash (18-116) and Filatov (18-145) were younger.
Playing in the NHL at 18 is a tall task. Only three players from the 2021 NHL Draft have played in the NHL this season, and only Sillinger remains with his NHL club. Mason McTavish (Anaheim Ducks) and William Eklund (San Jose Sharks) each played nine games with their NHL team before being re-assigned for further development; to San Diego Gulls of the AHL and Djurgardens IF of the Swedish Hockey League, respectively. Playing nine games on the nose isn't a coincidence, either. NHL teams can play rookies for up to nine games before their entry-level contract comes into effect. Obviously, the Blue Jackets have determined that Sillinger is here to stay, future contract implications be damned.
Even more impressive, Sillinger was taken 12th overall in the most recent draft. Being picked that late and having an immediate simply does not happen all that often. Consider that Sillinger has already played more games in the NHL than the no. 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, & 11 picks combined from the 2020 NHL Draft. And while there is still obviously plenty of time for any and all of those picks to materialize into NHL players, it's still pretty incredible that the Blue Jackets were able to mine that level of talent at that spot in the draft.
At this point, it seems unlikely that the Blue Jackets will release Sillinger to compete at the U20 World Junior Championships in December. He's simply too important to the immediate success of the team, and while it's a great experience for most top-end players, he'll derive more from playing against current top NHL centers than he would against the next wave of players.
Development isn't linear, and who's to say what Sillinger will accomplish at the NHL level over the course of his career, even when compared to his peers from the 2021 NHL Draft. But he's given himself a nice headstart on his rivals, and there's no reason to bet he won't become a franchise cornerstone - if he isn't already.