After a promising rookie season, Cole Sillinger proved he could be a foundational piece for the Blue Jackets.
In 79 games, the 19-year-old Sillinger, who was the youngest player in the NHL this season, scored 16 goals and 31 points, while playing 13:42 a game. His goal and point totals ranked 9th and 15th among rookies. Defensively, he finished 3rd among rookie forwards with 43 blocked shots and 13th among that same group of players with 24 takeaways. My colleague Will Chase wrote a great piece on Sillinger's first year in the NHL, and you can read that by clicking here.
The 12th overall pick in the 2021 Draft showed why he was a lottery pick and gave Jackets fans hope for what is to come in the future.
COLE SILLINGER— NHL (@NHL) October 22, 2021
First NHL goals are just the best. pic.twitter.com/7uhPKyMWVR
So, what can fans expect from him in his second season, and what would make the 2022-23 season a success?
Continued Offensive Growth
Of Sillinger's 16 goals this season, 14 of them came at 5v5, which ranked tied for fifth among rookies and tied for first among rookie centers, according to Natural Stat Trick. His 0.89 5v5 goals/60 minutes ranked higher than Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Bo Horvat, Mathew Barzal, and Mika Zibanejad. Nearly all of Sillinger's offense came at 5v5 because of his infrequency on the power-play. His 67:20 of power-play time ranked 122nd among NHL centers this season. However, that number could rise if his offensive zone face-off percentage does the same. This season, among 78 centers who took at least 200 offensive zone face-offs, Sillinger ranked 61st at 48.1%. If he improves his face-off percentage, perhaps head coach Brad Larsen will give Sillinger, who now has a year of NHL hockey under his belt, more ice time both at 5v5 and on the power-play, which should lead to more goals.
This could be said about the entire team, as the Blue Jackets set a franchise record for goals allowed this season. However, among the six Blue Jackets centers that played at least 50 games this season, he ranks second in 5v5 high-danger chances for percentage (HDCF%) at 43.53%, per Natural Stat Trick. That means that 43.53% of the 5v5 high-danger chances while he was on were for the Blue Jackets. For context, Patrice Bergeron had a 69.10 5v5 HDCF%, which was the best among centers who played at least 700 minutes at 5v5. However, for every 5v5 giveaway he had, he had one 5v5 takeaway, finishing with 24 each. That comes out to 1.4 giveaways per 60 minutes at 5v5, which ranked 56th best (0.0 per 60 minutes is the best possible) out of the 154 centers that played 700 5v5 minutes. Also, a reason he averaged just 26 seconds of penalty-kill time per game may be his defensive zone face-off percentage, which at 44.1, ranked 83rd out of 89 centers that took at least 200 defensive zone draws.
Expectations for Year Two
Fans should expect growth from Sillinger in all areas of the game, but should still be patient. He is still just 19 years old and bumps in the road are not the end of the world. Opponents will now have a year of film to study on him, and not every player's development is linear. However, he showed this past season that he was ready for the NHL as an 18-year-old and showed he can be one of the faces of the franchise for years to come.