Cole Sillinger, who is affectionately known around the Blue Jackets’ locker room as Silly, is off to the best possible start to a season for someone who is still just 18 years old. Based on what’s he’s doing and how he’s handling himself, you’d think he’s been in the NHL for 4-5 seasons.
Sillinger was taken 12th overall (or 11th if you factor in the Arizona Coyotes) in the 2021 Entry Draft. Since that moment, he has done nothing but impress. Whether it’s his new teammates or the coaching staff or management, Silly has a lot of fans within the team.
But there was a decision that had to be made. The Blue Jackets had to decide if they were going to keep Sillinger past 10 games and burn a year off of his entry-level contract or assign him to either the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL or the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL.
Sillinger’s performance did all the talking. The Blue Jackets told him he was staying. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone when it was expected that only a couple players from the 2021 draft would make the NHL right away. Certainly the expectation was that Sillinger would get every opportunity to show what he has. But then it was expected he would be sent somewhere to develop for a season.
But Sillinger through his play said nope, I’m ready right now. And with that, the Blue Jackets have entered “Silly” season. But this is the good kind.
Sillinger Still in Disbelief
We caught up with Sillinger Saturday morning after their morning skate. To say he is humble is not giving him enough justice. He is taking everything in stride but not letting the gravity of the moment phase him in any way.
Sillinger played in eight games going into the two-game set against the Colorado Avalanche. It was fair to wonder when a decision would be made on him. As it turns out, the mystery was solved internally even before Wednesday night’s game. Let Silly explain to you.
“Actually in Colorado, Lars (Brad Larsen) brought me over. He said ‘these are two big games. Go out and play.'” Imagine hearing that as an 18-year old knowing that if he played two games, that would be 10. This was said before Wednesday’s night’s game. That was the moment in which he knew he was staying.
But then Sillinger went on to say that the team was told after Friday’s practice that he was staying. So from before Wednesday’s game until after Friday’s practice, the rest of the team didn’t know.
Surely at some point, Sillinger had to have some idea of a moment in which it clicked when he thought he was for sure staying. Not only did he not encounter that moment, it still hasn’t sunk in for him.
“Honestly, not until now,” Sillinger said about the moment sinking in making the NHL. “It still doesn’t even feel real. Ever since day one, I’ve been taking it day by day and not getting too ahead of myself. Hopefully soon it will sink in. But it’s been a good two months so far.”
Silly Has Larsen’s Trust
One of the things that Larsen has said about Sillinger is how much he already trusts him. In today’s NHL, that’s a big deal. Coaches will put players on the ice who they trust can handle a situation. And even if there is a mistake, they trust that they will overcome the mistake in short order and be ready for their next opportunity.
That’s what makes Sillinger’s run to the Blue Jackets even more impressive is gaining that trust that some veterans still haven’t earned. How was he able to do that in short order?
“I think it’s just controlling what you can control and doing the things that ultimately I’m going to bring to the table every night,” Sillinger said. “For me, that’s my self-assessment. That’s my compete. That’s my work ethic. But it’s not only him (Larsen). It’s my teammates and gaining their trust, making sure they know what I’ll bring to the table. And being reliable, I think that goes a long way with trust.”
Is Sillinger really 18 years old? These are the kind of things you hear veterans saying. But not only do you hear him say it, but you see him put his words into action on the ice. That is what has separated Silly from others on the team. Need proof of that from Larsen? During Wednesday’s game in Colorado, Sillinger got a promotion to the top line to play with Patrik Laine and Jake Voracek. He finished the night with two goals, an assist and he helped flipped the game in the Blue Jackets’ favor.
That’s why come Saturday night, you will see Sillinger play with Voracek and Yegor Chinakhov in the top-six. He deserves the opportunity and has demonstrated that he’s ready to take on the next challenge.
Sillinger still has a lot to learn. There will be nights where he will struggle. But why does that not bother Larsen so much? It’s because there is trust that Silly will rebound. He’s already proven it this season.
As the Blue Jackets get ready to take on the Avalanche again, just think for a second how much impact Sillinger’s play has had on this 6-3-0 start for the team. He has helped answer a key early question for this team. Who could step up and play in a top-six center role? So far, so very good for Sillinger.
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The Blue Jackets are in “Silly” season. But it’s no laughing matter for the rest of the league. Sillinger has embraced every challenge so far and is showing why his future continues to shine bright.
It’s no accident Sillinger remained with the Blue Jackets. His approach, work-ethic and dedication all paved the way for this moment to become a reality.
The best is truly still yet to come.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.