Sonny Milano’s Unique Opportunity

We all know the Artemi Panarin situation is hanging over both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the rest of the NHL. It’s not often that a potential top-10 overall player becomes available for other teams. But here we are.

We don’t know what’s going to happen to Panarin. He might start the season in Columbus. He might get traded if a fair offer comes the Blue Jackets’ way. He might stay the season. He could change his mind and sign an extension. That doesn’t seem likely as of now but we really don’t know. Regardless of what happens, the chances of Panarin leaving Columbus are greater than him staying.

So what happens if Panarin leaves either via trade or free agency? The Blue Jackets would have to move on no matter what. That means you move on with the guys you have on the roster.

Let’s face it. This is a tough situation for the Blue Jackets to find themselves in. If you keep Panarin, you could run the risk of losing him for nothing after this season. If you trade him, you’re trading the best player in the deal. But at least you get something back.

Let’s say one way or another, Panarin is out of Columbus. What a gaping hole that leaves in the Blue Jackets’ top-six. There is no one on the current roster as talented as he is. But someone would have to fill that hole.

Artemi Panarin Blue Jackets
Finding a decent Panarin replacement could soften the blow of losing him. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Trying to Replacing Panarin

They say in hockey, all it takes is one chance, one opportunity. If the Columbus Blue Jackets do part ways with Panarin, it opens a spot for someone to grab. Enter Sonny Milano.

My, how the narrative has changed. Just one year ago, many thought that he and the Blue Jackets needed a separation. Now, Milano might be one of the most important Blue Jackets moving forward. Thanks to the uncertainty of the current situation surrounding Panarin, Milano finds himself with a very unique opportunity to take the bull by the horns and run with it.

What do I mean? Take a quick look at the depth chart throughout the Blue Jackets’ organization. Although they have some interesting prospects such as Vitaly Abramov on the way at some point, the team doesn’t have anyone like Milano who could potentially replace Panarin on the left side.

Of all the wingers in the Blue Jackets’ system, Milano might have the most offensive upside of that group. He showed some of that last season.

The issue with Milano has been his play away from the puck. That’s the main reason head coach John Tortorella either limited his minutes or scratched him. Milano had to become a better overall player at both ends to earn the coach’s trust.

This is why the summer for Milano is his biggest yet. He needs to demonstrate he’s ready to play every night. He needs to show consistency away from the puck. If he can do that, he can stay in the lineup permanently.

Milano’s Game Suited for Top-Six

Most agree that Milano’s game is suited for the top-six given his offensive upside. If he does the things needed over the summer in order to take the next step in his development, he might find himself as the team’s top left winger eventually. Opportunities like this don’t come around everyday. This is his chance to show he wants that spot.

Regardless how it plays out, losing Panarin is a downgrade. However if Milano can elevate himself and play up to his offensive potential, it could take some of the sting out of losing one of the game’s great players.

The way Milano handles the summer and beyond has the potential to give the team a significant boost when it could use one.

Milano wants more playing time. He’ll get it. He wants to play in the top-six consistently. He’ll have that chance. The opportunity is there. It’s now up to him to take this time and prepare himself. Can he come into camp ready to go and earn the trust of Tortorella?

We’ll see in just a matter of weeks.