Blue Jackets’ Sillinger Making Strong Case to Stay in NHL

Tuesday night in Detroit, Cole Sillinger had a rough night. For most any 18-year old playing the NHL, rough nights are going to happen. Thursday night against the New York Islanders, Sillinger not only responded, but made a big impact in the game.

Sillinger scored his first NHL goal and was the Blue Jackets’ best forward on the night in a 3-2 overtime win. The goal came at the end of the second period to give his team a 2-1 lead. Boone Jenner deflected a power-play goal past Ilya Sorokin to tie the game. Then 33 seconds later, Sillinger connected by driving the net and finishing a nice pass from Vladislav Gavrikov.

But it’s the things beyond the goal that stand out here. Sillinger is the youngest player in the NHL. But he’s acting like someone who’s been around for five years.

Beyond the Goal

The big story is the goal Sillinger scored. But did you see everything else he did Thursday night? He finished on a line with Gus Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand. He played over 17 minutes. He started overtime and even hung in with Mat Barzal on more than one occasion including a moment in overtime where he lost his stick.

Cole Sillinger, Columbus Blue Jackets
Cole Sillinger had a monster game on Thursday night. (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sillinger is calm and collected and shows it in the way he handles himself. He didn’t let Tuesday night bother him. He took the off day and learned from it. He came out Thursday night and made a huge point. Given the state of the rest of the roster especially at center, Sillinger may have done enough already to stay past 10 games in the NHL.

We’re just four games into this season so the Blue Jackets have time to make this important decision. But after Thursday’s performance being among the best on the ice, Sillinger has a strong case to stay in the NHL. He could even their best option at center.

Everything Sillinger has done is impressive. Even when things don’t go his way, he’s shown an ability to bounce back. He’s 18. Some players in their 20’s don’t have this part of the game figured out. He couples a high hockey IQ with a strong mentality.

Let head coach Brad Larsen tell you about Sillinger.

Larsen on Sillinger

“The thing about Cole. You saw the last game, right?” Larsen said. “And you don’t know how an 18-year old kid is going to respond. Especially the team we’re playing tonight…we had a good discussion about it. Again he just shows his maturity, right?”

“I don’t know if you caught it, but the last matchup I had in the third period was (Sillinger) vs Barzal and he took it head on. He’s still got a lot to learn. But I loved his game. I just loved the response, how he played. He was assertive. He wasn’t scared. He didn’t play scared one bit tonight. He led our team in shots in the first period. I think he had five after two.”

“He attacked the game as an 18-year old kid. That’s a team (the Islanders) that’s trying to win the Stanley Cup. They’re built for that…he stood right in there. You love to see him get rewarded because he had some chances tonight. He’s going to score a lot of goals in this league, let’s put it that way.”

Sillinger is just taking everything in stride.

“The good thing about this league is that you play every second night,” Sillinger said. “We put that one past us. We watched some video, did some review. I think we played a lot better game and faster game (which was) more our style and our model tonight.”

Related: Don’t Write These Blue Jackets Off Just Yet

“To be honest with you, I’m pretty relaxed about it. I think it was just good to rebound ourselves and get a key win here in our own building. The work just starts tomorrow again for preparation on Saturday. Pretty cool feeling to get my first goal but again just have to put this one past us and go on to the next one.”

That next one is Saturday night against another tough division rival, the Carolina Hurricanes.

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As for Sillinger, he is wise beyond his years and is doing everything asked of him and then some. He wants to stay in the NHL. If he keeps putting up performances like Thursday, staying in the NHL will become his reality.

The Blue Jackets may not have thought Sillinger would already be to this point. But as every game goes by, he does something more impressive. With that, the chances of him staying with the Blue Jackets go up.

Unless Sillinger really struggles in these next set of games, he seems destined to be told to find a place to live. Maturity beyond his years and an overall game to boot. That combination has Sillinger in the driver’s seat to stay for the season. He’s earned it.

Quick Side Dishes

  • The Blue Jackets have been in two overtime games. They’re 2-0 in those games. Patrik Laine scored both winning goals.
  • Goalie coach Manny Legace told Laine to go low blocker on Ilya Sorokin. Laine did just that in overtime. He almost went to the bench before scoring but saw the Islanders were at the end of a long shift. Good decision.
  • Elvis Merzlikins is quietly 3-0-0 with a .947 save percentage and a 1.63 goals-against average. He’s a man on a mission.
  • Bjorkstrand assisted on all three goals Thursday night. He has 2-5-7 in four games this season.
  • Quote of the night. Jakub Voracek said he has to talk to Laine about scoring when he’s not on the ice with him. “I gotta talk to him about that, see what’s up.”