Thanks to everyone who voted for this year’s Top 25 Under 25 ranking. We had almost 100 submissions from Columbus Blue Jackets fans. Now we’re down to the best of the best, our top two.
#2 Cole Sillinger
2nd out of 40 eligible players
Writer Rank: 3
Reader Rank: 3
Highest placement: 1 (6 votes)
Most common placement: 2 (60 votes)
2021 Rank: 9
Birthdate: May 16, 2003
Birthplace: Columbus, Ohio
Weight: 203 lbs.
Acquired: Drafted 12th overall in the 2021 Entry Draft
In this exercise, it can be difficult to rank prospects relative to NHL players. Some readers prioritize players with NHL experience over projected upside. That is, taking the established floor over a potential higher ceiling. I don’t personally agree with this, but I think it’s a valid perspective. I rank the NHL contributors over players that are not guaranteed to make the NHL, but I’ll rate a high first round pick who hasn’t played over someone who is a bottom of the roster player at best.
With Cole Sillinger, you have the best of both worlds. At 19 years old, he’s still among the youngest players in the system. But he also has a full NHL season under his belt, and one in which he stood out in a positive way.
Last fall, the Blue Jackets had options with Sillinger. He could return to Medicine Hat of the WHL, where he played before the pandemic. Because he played in the USHL before being drafted, he could have been assigned to the AHL. Instead, Sillinger made the team out of camp. On several occasions, head coach Brad Larsen has said that he kept looking for reasons to keep Sillinger off the roster before opening day, but he did everything asked of him in camp and preseason. He earned his spot on the roster.
By late October, the front office had seen enough, and Sillinger was informed that he would remain with the team for the full season. In case there was any doubt, in Game 9 he scored two goals and an assist in a surprise win in Colorado. There was no sending him back to juniors after that. He then added another goal against the Avs back in Columbus in the following game. Four points against the eventual champions? Yes, please.
Sillinger played center at all season, and looked comfortable doing so. His minutes were up and down, with four games below 10 minutes and five above 17. Still, he found ways to contribute without slumping too hard. His longest pointless drought was eight games in late March. After that, however, he put up 10 points (5G/5A) over his last 14 games.
While his play wasn’t enough to earn any Calder Trophy votes, it was enough to earn a spot on Team Canada for the World Championships in May. He scored three goals in 10 games, and took home a silver medal.
The challenge for Sillinger this season is to show whether he has another level to his game. He still has several years to make that leap, but signs of it this season could make the team’s future plans a lot clearer. If Patrik Laine and Johnny Gaudreau play on the same line, whichever center lines up between them stands to thrive. This could be a great opportunity for Silly, much like Pierre-Luc Dubois (another physical center) broke through as a 19 year old playing with Artemi Panarin.
While Sillinger seemed to focus on nailing the defensive side of the center position, it’s on the offensive side that I expect the most growth. He was a big goal scorer in juniors, tallying 22 goals in 48 games as a 16 year old in Medicine Hat, then 24 in 31 games for Sioux Falls in his pre-draft season. 16 goals is fine, and 10.8% shooting is about what you’d expect, so just shooting more than twice per game should be enough to increase the point totals. All four centers scored at least 14 goals last season. Could we get three above 20 goals this season?
I’m also looking for Sillinger to take on a more vocal role in the locker room. He’s already remarkably poised when talking to the media. He formed quick bonds with fellow youngsters such as Yegor Chinakhov. He leads by example with his hustle and his work ethic. I could see future captain potential here, after Boone Jenner.
Two multi-goal games, including a hat trick vs. Vegas. Three game winners. Which was your favorite?