Cole Sillinger On First NHL Season: "I Held My Ground Pretty Good And Tried To Help Out Any Way I Could"

By Will Chase on May 6, 2022 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Cole Sillinger waits for the face-off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As you know by now, Cole Sillinger was the youngest player in the NHL last season.

The 18-year-old set impressive marks with 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) in 79 games. It has to be a whirlwind experience for any player playing out their dream in their first NHL season, let alone for one that possessed the poise of a player that's done this before and is still a teenager.

"It's gonna probably take a couple days for me to just evaluate my season and evaluate our season as a group," Sillinger said. "Pretty happy with how things worked out and individually I thought I held my ground pretty good and tried to help out any way I could.

"Especially this last little stretch here, with guys being out, I feel like I've got a little more opportunity on the defensive side, and tried to take advantage of that, and hopefully down the road, I can do that as well."

As we discussed recently, Sillinger ramped up his offensive production in the final month of the season, setting April highs with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in the final 14 games.

What clicked for Sillinger?

"I'd say these last 10, 15, 20 games, just get a little more opportunity, and when that happens, you get a little more confident with the puck," Sillinger said. Just get more comfortable, more relaxed, maybe it feels like the game slows down for you a little bit.

"I was happy with not only how I played, but how our group played. Thought we competed hard."

Sillinger did so well in training camp, he made it hard for Blue Jackets management to turn him away, inserting him into the opening night lineup.

"My mindset after the draft was obviously I wanted to make the NHL as soon as I can," Sillinger said. "That's just the person I am to have that mentality. If the first person to believe that I could play in the NHL a year later was me, then that wouldn't have happened, right?

"Looking back I probably honestly wouldn't have thought I was going to do it."

It might get lost in the shuffle, but you have to consider the toll it takes on players who aren't used to playing the full rigors of an 82-game NHL schedule.

Did Sillinger feel the effects?

"I'm young," Sillinger said. "Tank's not too empty honestly. But yeah, it's a lot of games for sure. Season got cut short when I was 16 in my first year of juniors. Then Sioux Falls opened me up with their arms and I got to play 30 games there.

"I think my junior path was different than most people's. I didn't even know that stat, that's crazy I've already played as many NHL games as junior games. I feel pretty good, would be ready for 28 more if that was the case."

After an impressive first season, Sillinger has some experience to lean on as he looks to expand his game and enhance his skill set.

"I think it's huge for my off-season too," Sillinger said. "My training...knowing where I need to be strength-wise and just little things in my game where I need to work on so when I do come to camp next year and then those preseason games.

"Just hit the ground running and just pick up where I left off, but even more."

Sillinger wound up second on the Blue Jackets in individual scoring chances (143) and individual high-danger chances (55) while 5v5 per Natural Stat Trick.

"That's a stat I didn't know," Sillinger said. "I think as the year went on, what I learned was if you can beat guys away from the puck when you don't have it, like if you can maybe get on the inside of a guy, and then give yourself an opportunity maybe to get the puck and give it back, just little stuff like that, then you're going to create more opportunities for yourself.

"That's something I've learned and maybe why I've been having some chances. You have to find different ways to score in this league."

Understanding the speed of the game is critical to the success of an individual player and after his first season, Sillinger has a few guys in mind with regard to emulating his game after. 

"The game is so fast nowadays," Sillinger said. "That darty quickness...if I can continue to add that to my game, and just little cutbacks and beating guys one-on-one that way, and maybe getting on the inside of guys. Guys like (Nathan MacKinnon) or (Johnny Gaudreau), see the years they're having.

"They're skating and their ability to be so mobile. I think that's something where I can really add to my game."

An exciting element for this team, and what makes fans excited, is the talent crop rising on the ice for the Blue Jackets. Seeing so many young players play on a line together will only be enhanced by that chemistry and players anticipating where their linemates will be and where the puck will be.

"I think that's something you learn throughout the year," Sillinger said. "You learn with the guys you're playing with, too. You get more comfortable and get a feel and build chemistry, and then you know where they're going to be on the ice or know their tendencies.

"I feel like it's grown a lot over the year and then hopefully it continues that down the road."

It's exciting to imagine Sillinger and Kent Johnson playing together on a line one day.

"His skill set is tremendous," Sillinger said. "You saw some of the plays he made. The one that stands out to me is just the poise he had and then he faked it, faked it, faked it, and then just slid it over to (Jake Voracek), and then (Voracek) had a wide-open net. Just plays like that.

"Everyone's seen his college hockey highlights and he's just a great player, great person, and we're really good friends already so that's something that's important to me is the off-ice. He'll be a really good player."

We've probably all been the new person around the block, whether at a job or what have you. When some of the new players joined the team and started coming up to Sillinger, what was that like?

"When (Nick Blankenburg), guys like that ask me some questions, some of my answers were 'I don't know if that's a question for me yet,' because I'm still learning as well, and still trying to become more comfortable with the league.

"It's just kind of neat how those guys are older than me and they're asking me some questions. It's funny."

After Cole's father, Mike Sillinger played for the Blue Jackets from 2001-03, and now with Cole's NHL emergence in Columbus, there could be yet another Sillinger in the organization's wings. Brother Owen Sillinger played 17 games for the Cleveland Monsters out of college and scored nine points (three goals, six assists).

"I think that's a great signing by them," Sillinger said. "If you look at Owen's path, he's earned everything that has been given to him. He's been a guy that didn't play his first year of junior until he was 18. A little bit of a late developer, didn't play his first year in college until he was 21. Every year in college he got better and better.

"He's a very complete player and a very responsible player and every team he's been on, he's been a leader, a captain, and I think that's what stands out to me. I think one day he's going to work himself up in the national hockey."

When everything is all said and done, we'll know where this franchise stacks up on the ice with upper-echelon teams. As it currently stands, there's a lot of bright optimism.

"I think we had a good foundation of ourselves on our work ethic and our compete," Sillinger said. "If you look at our wins this year, 22, 23 of them were all from behind so I think it just goes to show our compete and the guys we have in the locker room just never giving up. That foundation is huge for us. With new guys coming next year, obviously, bring that culture into them.

"I'm really looking forward to it. Exciting future."

The 2022-23 season can't get here fast enough.