Cole Sillinger, standout rookie last year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, has struggled in year two. After a 16-15-31 season where he often looked like he belonged at the NHL level, his sophomore year has been anything but up to par. Thus far, his stats are as follows:
goals: 2, down from 16
assists: 4 down from 15
points: 6, down from 31
time on ice: 12:51, down from 13:42
even strength points: 5, down from 29
shooting percentage: 4.4%, down from 10.8%
faceoff percentage: 44.3%, down from 46.5%
blocked shots: 17, down from 43
Obviously, we are comparing full season stats vs. per 36 games played (36 for the club, 33 for Sillinger). Every single stat is worse, on pace to be worse, or is going to be worse.
So what has gone wrong? Why is Sillinger struggling? Can anything be done to help him? Let’s dive in.
Bad Shooting Luck
The simplest thing to point to is shooting percentage: Sillinger is shooting 6.4% worse than he did as a rookie. Even the best NHL players will look poor compared to prior seasons if their season-long shooting percentage drops off that much. For comparison’s sake, Johnny Gaudreau has lost 5.0% off his shooting percentage from last season, and as a result he’s on pace for 22.7 goals this year after last year’s 40 goals.
Sillinger is likely not a 10.8% shooter, but he’s not as bad as he’s been this year. If Sillinger can level out to a 9% career shooter as a middle six center, he’d double the shooting percentage of Sean Kuraly while shouldering a 200 foot load. That stabilization would help his career and the club long term.
The tape is out on Sillinger, but he’s not getting a chance to play through it. Sillinger hasn’t played more than 15 minutes in a game since before Thanksgiving (November 15, per hockey-reference), he’s only has 20 shifts in 2 of his last 17 games, and he hasn’t had consistent linemates. Sillinger is a talented player, but he won’t even turn 20 until May of 2023 - consistency and support is key for a player in his situation, even one who exceeded expectations as a rookie. The organization would do a lot of service by giving Sillinger consistency, either in the NHL or in the AHL.
Bad Puck Luck
Sillinger is getting terrible puck luck this year. To wit:
0.56 iXG/60 per Natural Stat Trick 5v5
0.16 iG/60 per Natural Stat Trick at 5v5
In layman’s terms, per 60 minutes at 5v5, Sillinger’s results are underperforming their expecting results by 0.4 goals. Nearly half a goal under expected, every 60 minutes at even strength, all season. Just terrible luck. A rotating cast of linemates, poor shooting luck, a generally underperforming forward group - everything has collapsed to lead to a poor season from Sillinger.
Not Getting Support From the Organization
All of the above considered, you’d thing a player in dire need of support would get a conditioning stint in Cleveland to at least get his confidence back, right?
You’d think, but this team hasn’t even considered it.
Sure, Boone Jenner is hurt right now and this team needs centers. But Jenner is supposed to come back soon. If anyone on this roster could benefit from a stint in the AHL to rebuild confidence and focus on playing their game, going to the net, building good habits, and not being around a losing roster, it’s Sillinger.
Sillinger hasn’t played well for stretches this year, but it can’t all be pinned on him. Hopefully the organization can take a longer term view to understand this season is lost, but rebuild Sillinger’s confidence in the process. Sillinger is a key, but not THE key to the future of the franchise - he still needs support to grow into the player the club will need him to be in a year or two.