Three Questions: Cole Sillinger Had A Pretty Good First Season, A Pretty Tough Second Season, Where Will Things Fall This Upcoming Season?

By Will Chase on July 18, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Cole Sillinger shoots against the Winnipeg Jets during the second period at Nationwide Arena.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
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Twenty-year-old Cole Sillinger is about to enter his third NHL season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a surprising season in 2021-22 in which they ended up 37-38-7 with 81 points and finished sixth in the Metropolitan Division.

Sillinger had a sterling first season in the NHL, scoring 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games. The 31 points placed him 15th among rookies and his 16 goals were good for ninth.

Expectations were raised slightly for the team and the center heading into the 2022-23 season.

Instead, both storylines went off the rails.

While 2022-23 saw the Blue Jackets sitting towards the bottom of the NHL basement all season, Sillinger struggled in year two, scoring 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 64 games. The season got off to an inauspicious start when he suffered an upper-body injury during a collision on the first day of training camp.

During the regular season, Sillinger missed a few games due to injury and being healthy scratched. Then he was sent down to Cleveland for the rest of the season in March where he played 11 games for the Monsters scoring six points (two goals, four assists).

Where Will He Start The Year?

That brings us to the question of where Sillinger will be in 2023-24.

Could he start the year in Cleveland or will he be at Nationwide Arena in the Blue Jackets' lineup for the season opener on Oct. 12 against the Philadelphia Flyers?

Training camp and pre-season are two months away so we'll get the answers to that soon enough.

Dan Dukart has been reviewing the Blue Jackets' potential line combos and where players might fit. Could Sillinger slot right into the second line or would it likely be the third line?

Sean Kuraly is the fourth-line center and Dimitri Voronkov is on the roster, as well as Alexandre Texier and each could preside over one of the middle-center spots. Probably the third line.

Jack Roslovic could also be the third-line center so maybe Sillinger starts out on the wing?

Maybe he starts out in the AHL with Cleveland.

How Will He Get Back On Track?

This is the big question and it applies to several players. The organization as a whole is hoping the recent off-season activity will reenergize the teams' bid for more playoffs in the near future, and the first such trip since 2020.

The Jackets are heavy on forwards on the roster and there are a bevy of options that could benefit Sillinger.

Whether he's playing with Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Yegor Chinakhov, Adam Fantilli, or someone else, there are combinations that might unlock the scoring touch he struggled to find last season.

Sillinger played a chunk of minutes with Oliver Bjorkstrand, Max Domi, Gus Nyquist, and Jake Voracek in 2021-22, all players that were either not part of the 2022-23 team or left in the middle of the season due to injury or trade.

It Was Just A Sophomore Slump, Right?

This is probably all it was. Players struggle for a number of reasons. Especially young players. And young players on bad teams.

Sillinger was also pretty unlucky last season.

Per Natural Stat Trick, he had a 5v5 0.955 PDO (PDO is team shooting percentage plus save percentage—here's a good resource on this), which tied him with Andrew Peeke and placed him just under Sean Kuraly. The traditional common thought is that players will regress to the mean of 100, and players under 100 are, in part, having tough puck luck.

As simple as this concept is, and there's a lot of validity to it, it's of course much more convoluted than simply just having good or bad puck luck, but the idea can lend some insight into Sillinger's struggles.

In 2021-22, Sillinger's PDO was .976, which was just above Bjorkstrand and just below Zach Werenski. Sillinger's 5v5 shot percentage in 2022-23 fell to 1.23%, down from 11.02%. And yet his iXG/60 was 0.78, down from just 0.81 the season before. Sillinger's xGF/60 of 2.28 was down from 2.34 and his iXG of 9.59 was much closer to last year (12.77).

Of Sillinger's three goals last season, only one came at 5v5.

Another constant in Sillinger's metrics was xGA/60, which was 2.81 after being 2.76 the season before. Sillinger only played 734:36 at 5v5 but led the team in this category among regulars.

Expectations might be lowered for Sillinger going into year three and he's still just 20 years old.

It was funny when Stu Grimson of the NHL Network even suggested that the Blue Jackets might be ready "to move on from Sillinger," and move on from him for Pius Suter who is a 20-30 point player so far—36 in 2021-22 for the Detroit Red Wings as if the Blue Jackets need to give up on the young center already.

Let's face it. This is a tough league. Sillinger had a bad year and he has a lot to learn and overcome. Let's see what the kid is made of.

Mike Babcock will have his first crack at the lineup and how he gets the best of his young talent.

Have patience. Let'em cook.

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