Earlier this month, center Cole Sillinger signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Sillinger was selected 12th overall by the Blue Jackets with a pick they received from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Seth Jones trade. Here’s a look at what Sillinger will offer Columbus and whether or not he might be the answer to the team’s struggling center position.
The Sillinger Name Is Familiar
Sillinger is the son of former Blue Jacket Mike Sillinger, who scored 38 goals and 48 assists in 155 games in his two seasons from 2001 to 2003.
Like his father, Cole will try to make a name for himself in Columbus in the coming seasons.
In the past two seasons with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede and the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers, Sillinger scored 99 points (46 goals, 53 assists) in 79 games. Dayton Reimer of The Hockey Writers lists Sillinger’s strengths as his shot, passing and playmaking ability, high hockey IQ, and deception. Reimer noted in his draft profile, “Sillinger’s biggest weakness has allowed him to showcase his deception, which is arguably his greatest weapon. His patience and vision allow him to create space without the need to blow by his opponent, and his high hockey IQ helps him think several steps ahead to make sure he can create the best scoring opportunity for his team. That’s a skill that’s difficult to teach and will make him a highly valued target.”
These qualities allow him to stay ahead of his opponent and get quality scoring chances for his team. Improvements needed in his game are his skating, transition defense, and overall defense, and despite that, Sillinger will offer an offensive boost at center in Columbus.
Sillinger Will Bring Much Needed Help to Center Ice
In the 2020-21 season, when Sillinger was lighting up the score sheet in Sioux Falls, the Blue Jackets were struggling to find answers down the middle.
With the early trade of center Pierre-Luc Dubois and the surprise retirement of Mikko Koivu, Columbus was left with a large hole at center ice when it came to depth. These problems were compounded even more when Boone Jenner, the top faceoff man for the team, suffered a season-ending injury, and Riley Nash was traded later in the season.
These problems were evident in Columbus’ game. They were second to last in faceoff percentage (FO%) at just 45.3 percent. Only the New York Rangers were worse.
To make matters worse, none of the centers left on Columbus’ roster or traded to the Blue Jackets were not able to consistently score. Amongst NHL centers who played at least 10 games in 2020-21, none of the Blue Jackets’ centers cracked the top 40 when it came to points. You have to look all the way to 45 to find Jack Roslovic and his 34 points, revealing a lack of consistent scoring at the Blue Jackets’ center position.
There was no secret that center ice was one of the main areas of concern for the Blue Jackets in the 2020-21 season. They lacked a center with a consistent scoring ability and did not have much depth at the center position. These are all roles Columbus hopes Sillinger can fill.
Sillinger Is Much More Productive Than Centers on the Blue Jackets’ Roster
In the 2020-21 season with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, Sillinger averaged 1.48 points per game. For comparison, the Blue Jackets’ top-scoring center (Jack Roslovic with 34 points) averaged 0.71 points per game. Also, Sillinger’s 46 points last season were more than any of Columbus’ centers scored last season. Again, the closest player to Sillinger’s production was Roslovic, who had 34 points in 48 games.
Of course, Sillinger put up those stats in a league that is not nearly as skilled as the NHL, but his offensive awareness is hard to teach, and the numbers impress. Once he is ready to step into the Blue Jackets lineup, he will be an automatic upgrade at center, even if he doesn’t have the same impact as in Sioux Falls.
Sillinger Will Add an Offensive Boost to Center Ice for the Blue Jackets
Sillinger was a great selection at 12th overall. His offensive skills are well developed for a player his age, and as Reimer noted, they are difficult skills to teach. He needs to improve certain areas if he wants to earn extended playing time, but defensive awareness and skating are teachable skills. If he can score as he has done in the USHL and WHL and makes improvements, he will be a nice addition to the Blue Jackets who have struggled at the center position.
Cody Chalfan is currently a journalism major at the Ohio State University who grew up in Columbus and loves hockey, especially the Blue Jackets. He is disabled, therefore he is a major advocate for the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone movement. A piece he wrote focusing on the Blue Jackets’ work on expanding the sport into the local special needs community can be found here. Cody can be contacted via Twitter (@cachalfan) direct message for comments, constructive criticism, or story ideas.