Columbus Blue Jackets Center Cole Sillinger Is Continuing To Grow In His Third Season In The NHL

By Dan Dukart on April 1, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cole Sillinger shoots as Bryan Rust drops to block
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
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Columbus Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger's up-and-down career has been well-chronicled. He impressed as a rookie, disappointed as a sophomore, and has developed into a well-rounded center in his third season.

A year ago, he was wrapping up a forgettable 3-8-11 in 64 games campaign. And while 12-16-28 in 69 games isn't exactly prolific, it's a vast improvement. But his offense regressing (in a good way) to the mean was likely always going to happen. What's more impressive, in my estimation, is his commitment to his game without the puck. It's hard to believe that Sillinger, who doesn't turn 21 until next month, is already relied upon by the coaching staff in a big way. Look no further than Saturday night's 4-3 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. With Boone Jenner a late omission from the lineup due to illness, plus a full inventory of other shelved players (Patrik Laine, Adam Fantilli, Yegor Chinakhov, Sean Kuraly, Kent Johnson, Justin Danforth), and the trade of Jack Roslovic, Pascal Vincent essentially had no choice but to rely on his young centerman.

Sillinger responded by playing 23:47, the second most minutes he's played this season, and added an assist, while playing primarily alongside Alexandre Texier and Kirill Marchenko, on the club's defacto top line. He has 1-2-3 in his past two games. But even when he's not scoring, Sillinger has developed a strong 'B' game, where he can still impact the game with his forechecking, defensive discipline, and general agitation even when he's not scoring. That's notable, as many young players take years to develop such a game.

Sillinger still has much to improve upon in his young career. He was a prolific rush player in junior but has struggled to create his own chances in transition in the NHL. Some of this is confidence, part of it habit. He has a tendency to enter the zone with his feet planted, and defenses simply hold their formation and wait for back-pressure knowing that he's not a speed threat. He's still a sub-50% faceoff performer. And it's fair to wonder what his ceiling is in the NHL as an offensive producer. Is he a plus-third-line player? Or maybe a 2C with very good linemates? His goal the other night was his first in 12 games, after all.

In Sillinger's defense, all three of the embedded videos in this post are rush plays. Perhaps that says more about the Penguins than anything, but it was good to see him getting out in space.

While the rest of the season is mostly a wash, it does matter for young players like Sillinger, where every game is a valuable development opportunity. For him to take the next step as a player, I'd like to see him improve his offensive zone entry game and continue to work at faceoffs. Next season, it's possible that he's the club's opening night 2C, perhaps flanked by Laine/Marchenko and Chinakhov/Johnson. 

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