Columbus Blue Jackets forward Sonny Milano is off to an unexpected hot start with four goals in the first trio of games. For a player that hadn’t been successful at the NHL level before this season, it has to be a great feeling to begin the year like this especially considering his journey to this point.
Milano’s Road to the Show
In the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets used their 16th overall selection on the American. At the time, the Milano was committed to play college hockey for Boston College but he later informed the university that he intended to sign a pro contract with the Blue Jackets, foregoing a collegiate career.
The New York native chose to prepare for a future in the NHL by playing with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League. According to NHL.com, he tallied 68 points in 50 games along with five points in 10 games for the Springfield Falcons – the previous minor league affiliate of the Blue Jackets. He then spent the following two seasons playing the majority of his games for the present AHL affiliate Cleveland Monsters. In 117 games with the Monsters, he scored 78 points.
The 21-year-old got some chances at the NHL level but recorded only one point, an assist, in seven games over the last two seasons. He was a very talented forward that might never earn the chance to play a top-six role for the Blue Jackets. It was disappointing that he couldn’t hold an NHL spot despite a solid reputation.
Not only is he a former first-round selection, which is a great achievement, he also won the bronze medal at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge in 2013 as a member of Team USA, per eliteprospects.com. He was invited to play in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game which is an annual event consisting of 40 of the best American-born draft-eligible players. Since the first year of the event in 2013, 74 players have been drafted and 15 of those were first-rounders. Milano is one of them. He was a member of the gold medal-winning 2015 Team USA squad at the U-18 World Juniors Championship and he helped the Monsters capture the Calder Cup in the 2015-16 season.
Sonny Stealing the Spotlight
So, Milano has an impressive track record. It was evident in the midst of training camp that he was ready for the bigger role the Jackets were offering and boy, has he seized the opportunity. Milano has scored the team’s first goal in all three games and tacked on a second in the last game against the Carolina Hurricanes, a smooth breakaway finish in overtime to give the Jackets their second win of the season.
With four goals through three games, Milano is the team’s leading scorer. In fact, he has accounted for half of the team’s goals thus far, a pleasant surprise from a player who many expected wouldn’t make the roster.
It’s important not to over-exaggerate in this situation, though. Sure, Milano is on pace to score over 100 goals this season but frankly, that number will not be reached. He isn’t really a goal-scorer but more of a playmaker who has developed a strong defensive game over the course of the last few years to prepare himself for NHL play. Can he continue to carry the team in goal-scoring? My answer is no.
The Jackets have a number of other offensive weapons such as Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson who will most likely out-score Milano by the year’s end. However, a 25-goal season for Milano looks reachable at this point and would put a large smile on the faces of everyone in the Jackets’ front office.
I may have had my doubts about Milano before the start of this season but he has proven that he belongs. He’s a talented player. However, I don’t think you should expect this kind of scoring to continue throughout the entirety of the season. Once injured forward Boone Jenner recovers and is back in the lineup, Milano’s role will diminish a bit.
But, right now, he looks pretty darn good. Head coach John Tortorella has no choice but to ride the hot hand and keep giving Milano extra ice time to make a difference.
You couldn’t have scripted a better start to the season for the rookie. There were so many questions that surrounded him about his place in an NHL lineup. He has shot them down at the opening of the 2017-18 season and will look to keep the fire burning at Nationwide Arena Friday night when the Blue Jackets take on their division rivals, the New York Rangers.