Do the Columbus Blue Jackets have a decision to make regarding rookie Cole Sillinger?
Sillinger, who would be a lock to make Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championship later this month, is also a key player for the Blue Jackets. On the surface, there seems to be little reason to believe the Blue Jackets would release him for a decent chunk of the season, but there's some logic to letting him go. Here are the pros and cons of each decision.
Do you think the Blue Jackets should make Cole Sillinger available to play for Team Canada at the World Juniors? Based on the camp and tournament schedule, he would miss ~10 NHL games. #CBJ— SpecmenceCBJ (@SpecmenceCBJ) December 3, 2021
In Favor Of Going To The WJC
The World Junior Championship is to many young Canadians what March Madness is to Americans. It's a highly-visible showcase where millions of people can, in a short amount of time, see the next wave of players. Some, like Jordan Eberle, became almost cultlike figures due to their performance at the tournament. That means something for someone like Sillinger, who, let's be honest, probably didn't assume he'd be playing in the NHL in his draft+1 season.
Sillinger would be on the shortlist of key players for perennial powerhouse Team Canada. He would play against many of the top young prospects in the world, and would likely be in a leadership role.
Then there's his long-term development. We may never know, but one could make an argument that a two-week tournament playing against his peers could propel his game to an even higher level. And, as mentioned, it's a relatively short time commitment. Sillinger would return refreshed, and likely with some hardware.
Finally, Sillinger has seen his role diminish in recent weeks as other players have emerged. He hasn't eclipsed the 15:00 TOI mark in his past eight games, and in that span has just 1-1-2 (coincidentally his lone goal, a big one, was scored last night). If his long-term development is paramount - and the organization swears it is - there is an argument to be made that playing a key role for Canada would be more beneficial for a reduced role in Columbus.
In Favor Of Staying In The NHL
Iron sharpens iron, and Sillinger has consistently shown that he belongs in the NHL. Has he had his moments where he's struggled? Absolutely, but that makes him no different from any other member of the Blue Jackets, 18-year old or otherwise.
While winning - or challenging for - a Gold Medal would make for a nice story, the Blue Jackets are 13-10-0 and right in the thick of the standings. Sillinger is playing in a 3rd or 4th line capacity (at least, as far as his time on ice is concerned), but that's still 12-13 minutes a night versus the best competition in the world. And he's producing.
From The Athletic's Aaron Portzline from last week:
"Telling stat: Sillinger, with 4-5-9 in 20 games, is on pace for 16-21-37. During his rookie season as an 18-year-old, Rick Nash had 17-22-39."
On Sunday night, he scored a huge goal late in the second period to tie the game at 3-3. The Blue Jackets would go on to win 6-4.
Do the Blue Jackets win the game without Sillinger's goal? Who can say, but I'm sure the coaches would prefer to have Sillinger - who has played in all 23 games this season - than not.
The Last Word
This feels like one of those situations where the Blue Jackets would be out-thinking themselves to release Sillinger. He's clearly done enough to stick in the lineup, and there's no reason to think he'll slow down anytime soon.
While the temptation may be there to allow him to compete alongside his peers, the organization has been steadfast that Sillinger's long-term development will be the main driver of decisions. And it's hard to imagine him developing more outside of the NHL than inside it.