Cole Sillinger – 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Cole Sillinger

2020-21 Team: Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Date of Birth: May 16, 2003
Place of Birth: Regina, Saskatchewan
Ht: 6-foot-0 Wt: 187 pounds
Shoots: Left
Position: Center
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligible

Rankings

Cole Sillinger leaped onto the 2021 Draft radar last season after a very strong rookie season with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Medicine Hat Tigers. In 48 games, the son of former NHL player Mike Sillinger had 22 goals and 53 points, and finished fourth on team scoring despite being one of the youngest players on the team. The 2019-20 season was unfortunately cut short, halting the rookie’s hot streak and giving way for the Edmonton Oil Kings’ Dylan Guenther to claim the WHL’s Rookie of the Year, although the Tigers honored their young star by naming him the team’s top rookie for 2019-20.

Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide

The shortened season set up Sillinger and Guenther for a heated battle as to who would claim the title of top WHL forward for the upcoming draft, with both having a legitimate shot at being a top-10 NHL pick. But with no sign as to when the league would resume, Guenther decided to play in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, while Sillinger opted to go down to the United States Hockey League (USHL) since he had dual citizenship.

However, that’s where things got complicated. Junior players regularly play for a Junior-A league before joining the WHL, but no such transfer agreement exists, and Sillinger’s request to Hockey Canada to join the Sioux Falls Stampede, who owned his USHL rights, was denied. So, with no start date in sight, the Tigers decided to loan their star player for the entire season, as they believed “…it was felt that this option would give him the best ability to showcase his talent for upcoming NHL Draft,” said general manager Willie Desjardins. (from ‘Tigers release Sillinger to play for USHL team this season’, CHAT News Today – 1/13/21)

Cole Sillinger Medicine Hat Tigers
Cole Sillinger of the Medicine Hat Tigers (Randy Feere/Medicine Hat Tigers)

So far, the results have been promising for the young star. In his first 23 games, Sillinger had 19 goals and 37 points, which lead his team and, at 1.61 points per game, is the fourth-highest rate in the USHL, and he shows no sign of slowing down. Only Sasha Pastujov and Matthew Coronato have out-performed him among draft-eligible prospects. He’s demonstrated one of the best shots of the 2021 class, and his 0.82 goals-per-game rate is second in the USHL, just behind Coronato’s 0.95. He also is an effective playmaker thanks to his great vision and intelligence on the ice.

However, his game is not without flaws, and scouts have been concerned about his skating since last season, especially regarding his acceleration and stride. He has made improvements while with the Stampede, which is promising, but it still is not at the same level as many of his peers. However, 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 come draft day.

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Cole Sillinger – NHL Draft Projection

In an ironic twist, going to the USHL may have actually hurt Sillinger’s draft projection, despite his high goal and point rate. Prior to the season, the center was projected to be just outside the top-10 and very close to fellow WHL forward Guenther. Now, he’s sunk back down to the 15-20 range, likely due to the perception that the competition in the USHL isn’t quite as tough or NHL-ready as the WHL, since most players from the American league go on to play several seasons in the NCAA. The league’s top prospects are also overshadowed by the United States National Team Development Program, which plays most of their season in the USHL.

So, while Guenther draws comparisons to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Leon Draisaitl thanks to his draft-minus-one season’s totals, Sillinger has few similarities to his teammates and opponents, since few players ever transition from the Canadian Hockey League to the USHL. Still, his skill is evident, and no matter where he goes next season, this will be a great growing year for him.

Quotables

“Sillinger drives the offense for his line. He’s always looking to create plays and does so often, one of the simple yet crucial aspects of a hockey player at any level. He drives the puck towards the back of the net every play, whether he passes it off or takes it home himself… He’ll fight with you along the boards (usually winning) or meet you in open ice to knock you off the puck. He gets off a quick, deceptive shot, he can create space for himself and his teammates and reads the play so well.” Josh Bell, former The Hockey Writers writer

“Sillinger is a skilled offensive player with a great shot and release, a high hockey IQ, and excellent vision and playmaking ability.” Mike Morreale, NHL.com

“With one of the best shots in the draft, Sillinger is a threat to score on every shift he steps on the ice. His ability to get his shot off regardless of the puck position is impressive, whether it’s firing it from in his feet or extended out to the side, he’s dangerous. As a playmaker, he has the talent to make any pass but often refrains from making the pass to try and create his own shot. He has the skill to make the passes, there is little doubt about that. Willingness to use his teammates will go a long way to making him more dangerous all over the ice. He has some rounding out to do as a player in terms of his defensive game but the talent is there. He has improved his skating since last season, staying agile on his feet more consistently and using his edges more effectively. There is still room to grow in that regard but the improvement is a welcome sight. If he can up the effort off the puck, he has a chance to be one of the best players in the class.” Tony Ferrari, Dobberprospects

Strengths

  • Shot
  • Passing and playmaking
  • High hockey IQ
  • Deception

Under Construction (Improvements to Make)

  • Skating
  • Transition
  • Defense

NHL Potential

Smaht Scouting’s Sam McGilligan compares Sillinger’s skill set to that of Mark Scheifele, who was praised for his offensive skills and deception, but also was criticized for his skating in his draft year. Many were surprised that the Winnipeg Jets called his name so early in 2011, making him the seventh player off the board and their first selection as a new franchise. But it paid off in a massive way, as he’s become the team’s best player. Whichever team selects Sillinger will likely have to be patient — Scheifele didn’t become who he is today until his fourth full season — but the tools are there for him to become a very competent top-six center and a regular 20-30-goal scorer in the NHL.

Risk-Reward Analysis

Risk – 3/5, Reward – 4/5

Fantasy Hockey Potential

Offence – 8/10, Defence – 7/10

Awards/Achievements

In 2018-19, Sillinger took the Saskatchewan AAA U18 League by storm, leading the league with 45 assists and 76 points and earning Rookie of the Year, Top Forward, and Most Valuable Player awards. Last season, he was largely overshadowed by Guenther, but was still recognized by the Tigers as the team’s Rookie of the Year, sharing it with two other teammates.

Cole Sillinger Statistics

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