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That One They Call Sonny

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Sonny Milano has flashed early promise after seizing the opportunity.

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NHL: New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Sonny Milano, just 21-years-old, and drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014, had a determined preseason and cracked the opening night lineup against the New York Islanders Oct. 9.

He made his NHL debut in 2015-16 and had spanned seven-career games at the top level entering this season.

Now, Milano is looking to stick around.

If he keeps doing what he has — four goals in the first five games — that won't be a problem. Milano became the first Blue Jackets rookie to bury the biscuit in the teams' first three games to start a season.

Increased Responsibility

Milano was bumped up to the second line against the Hurricanes with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alexander Wennberg during the game in Carolina last Tuesday night.

Displaying offensive prowess at the AHL level in Cleveland last season, Milano was one off the goals lead (18), co-led the team with 29 assists, and led the way with 47 points.

Following the Jackets’ opening night win, John Tortorella had this to say on Milano:

"I told Sonny when he overpassed on one play, you can score another one. I'm excited for him but then it's business as usual. Just making sure he makes simple plays and then when the offensive chances come, he's on his own."

Torts further alluded to great teaching moments he has had with Milano, particularly in which he tried to do too much, but then there are the smart plays he makes when he simplifies his game.

A work in progress.

Over the summer there may have been musings about whether he would primarily be in Cleveland throughout the season or even casual chatter about a potential trade chip for Colorado's Matt Duchene.

Beginning to Evolve

Alison Lukan of The Athletic mentioned recently on The 215 Podcast about how Milano came into camp ready, strong and focused. He has that physical specimen of the traditional hockey player and has developed that offensive and defensive balance, that situational awareness on offense.

A refinement of his game that coaches in the minors — John Madden, Chris Clark, Jared Bednar — and Torts wanted from him.

This was essentially a make or break year for Milano considering the talented youth in Cleveland and guys ready to make that next push. The early absences in training camp of Boone Jenner to injury and the holdout of Josh Anderson allowed Milano the opportunity to seize.

Aaron Portzline referenced that the perception of Milano’s game over the last few years was not considered very fondly from those around the league. The elements of his game drove coaches crazy. He had the skill but also tried to do something special every time he had the puck.

It's all about picking his spots and being situationally aware.

More to come?

Whether he's going to be that offensive talent that has officially begun to break out, and that ultimately keeps him around at the NHL level, remains to be seen. He isn't a power forward that will knock you over, but he does possess the physicality and he is engaged, works along the boards, and adds an edge to his overall game.

As we know with Torts' teams, you're expected to have an edge and snarl. All of the little things that will lead to a player having more trust from his coaches and being in bigger spots.

Hence the Carolina game as he picked up another two goals and the game-winner.

But also instances such as playing hard away from the puck, going to get loose pucks and finding the right player on the ice.

So far the Jackets are playing well, putting up some big offensive numbers, and utilizing a lot of skill. The addition of Artemi Panarin, Cam Atkinson following a breakout year and his impending contract, and getting Anderson back into the flow were some of the storylines entering the season.

Now with the initial breakout from Milano, we have another compelling story to monitor.