On Thursday, the Blue Jackets made a bit of a surprise move, demoting 19 year old sophomore center Cole Sillinger to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. Sillinger has struggled in his second year in the NHL, and this move seems fitting – but should they have done it sooner?
Last season, Cole was the only 18 year old to spend the entire year in the NHL. And he sure looked the part, scoring 16 goals and 31 points in 79 games, while playing a rugged style that often kept him under the opponents’ skin. Unfortunately, injury caused him to miss a good portion of the team’s training camp this past fall, and I think that’s been one contributing factor to his struggles.
He started the year off in a promising way, scoring a nifty goal in the first game of the season against the Carolina Hurricanes – but it was called back due to offsides. Ultimately, that’s been the story of his season. He’s been a consistent worker and has done a lot of the right things, but luck has not been on his side and he’s been snake bitten too many times to count.
Cole has gotten slightly fewer shots on average (1.87 per game last year, 1.45 this year), but luck has really been killing him. His shooting percentage last year was 10.8%; which is slightly above league average. This year, he’s found the net just three times and has a paltry 3.2% shooting percentage.
Part of the struggles with luck may be due to the turnstile of players through the CBJ lineup this year. Last season, he was kept somewhat consistently on a line with Yegor Chinakhov on one wing, and then one of Jakub Voracek or Gustav Nyquist on the other. But Voracek was injured in November and eventually dealt away at the deadline. Nyquist also missed some time and was traded, and Chinakhov played higher in the lineup before a high ankle sprain saw him miss two months; only to be sent down to the AHL.
Without consistent line mates, it’s hard to get into a rhythm and play consistent hockey. Overall, I don’t think Cole has been a standout in any negative way. In fact on a lot of nights, you can see him working hard in the right areas, winning puck battles and competing down low. But for a talented kid, eventually the offensive struggles will start to harm confidence.
You can see him gripping the stick a little tighter, and maybe forcing plays that aren’t there. These are the issues that start to spring up when a player isn’t playing confident hockey. For these reasons, the smart decision is to send Cole down. And, I think with the way he’s struggled this year, they would have made this move a lot sooner if they weren’t dealing with so many injuries to both the NHL and AHL squads.
Once they signed Hunter McKown out of Colorado College, adding another center to the roster, they were able to make this move without further depleting both teams. This gives Cole a chance to rejoin Chinakhov and hopefully dominate in the AHL. The two have obvious chemistry, and both are very important pieces of the future for the Blue Jackets.