Columbus Blue Jackets 2023-2024 Season Preview: Cole Sillinger

Two seasons ago, Cole Sillinger was an impressive rookie on the Blue Jackets. He came in as an 18 year old and really played like a veteran. His play gave fans and management excitement for his future. Unfortunately, the sophomore slump plagued him last season. Which version of Cole Sillinger can the 5th line expect to see in 2023-2024?

C Cole Sillinger
6’0”, 197 lbs
2022-2023 stats: 64 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 PTS, -23, 22 PIMs
Acquired: Drafted 1st round, #12 overall, 2021 NHL Draft
Contract: $0.925m AAV through 2023-2024
Role: Middle Six Center

The last two seasons have been a Jekyll and Hyde for Cole Sillinger. His rookie season (2021-2022) gave a glimpse of his potential. He looked confident, smart, and quick. But his sophomore campaign (2022-2023) was not as glamorous. His offensive output fell off and he struggled to gain confidence through most of the season. He was one of the few Blue Jackets players who missed minimal time with an injury in 2022-2023 (he played in 64 games). Towards the end of the season, Cole was sent down to Cleveland to regain his confidence. He faired much better, as he scored 6 points in 11 games.

Projecting the role for Sillinger in 2023-2024 is difficult. Based on his play during his rookie season, he would be a lock for the regular lineup. Based on his play from his sophomore season, one would expect making the CBJ would be an uphill battle for Sillinger. To make the CBJ this season, he will need to stand out and earn his role. He has a more difficult path to making the opening night roster than some of the other forwards for a couple reasons. First, he doesn’t require waivers to go to Cleveland. With many of the other forwards requiring waivers, CBJ management may favor sending Sillinger to Cleveland so that others are not claimed by other teams. Second, CBJ management want Sillinger playing in a bigger role. They expect him to be a 2nd or 3rd line center in the NHL at some point. With the top six almost locked in place, Sillinger has an difficult task to make the 3rd line. Management doesn’t want him on the 4th line or being a healthy scratch. Wherever he plays, they expect him to play more minutes and in all situations. Since competition for the 2nd and 3rd line is fierce, the most likely outcome would be for Sillinger to play on the top line in Cleveland. That way he could gain experience being a top center at the professional level.

One bold prediction: Sillinger will be the leading scorer in Cleveland this season. With 17 forwards competing for 12 forward positions, he will have his work cut out for him. Because he won’t require waivers to go to Cleveland, he really needs to stand out and earn a spot over other players in order to stay in Columbus. To maximize Cole’s potential, I think CBJ management will make him one of the final cuts of training camp and have him anchor the first line in Cleveland. I think that will be a good role for him. He will get put in all situations and play against the top defenders on a nightly basis. I think Cole Sillinger will flourish in that role and will be the leading scorer for the Monsters in 2023-2024.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 21: Cole Sillinger #34 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates with the puck against the Washington Capitals during the first period of the game at Capital One Arena on March 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Three keys to success:
  1. Don’t get frustrated. After Sillinger’s rookie season, many thought he would be an even better player in his sophomore season. Unfortunately, that did not come to fruition. There were moments last season where you could see Sillinger get frustrated from the lack of scoring. He just needs to keep a levelheaded mind and stick with the plan. CBJ management still see him as a 2nd or 3rd line center. He has all the tools to be a good player in this league. He just needs to stick with the plan, even if that means going to Cleveland again this season. Some of the best players in the NHL regressed at some point and many of them played in the AHL for long stretches. Sillinger is still young (20) and has plenty of opportunities ahead of him. If at first you don’t succeed, just keep your composure, and keep battling. Eventually, your hard work will pay off.
  2. Don’t be afraid to shoot. Sillinger appeared to play more freely as a rookie and was not afraid to shoot the puck. But, as his struggles mounted, there were times in his sophomore season that spectators could see him hesitant to shoot. He would get too fancy with the puck and try to make a perfect play, which typically backfired. If there is a simple play to be made, just make it. If you have an opportunity to take a good, quality shot, then just take it. Don’t try to overcomplicate the game.
  3. Grab that lunch pail and hard hat; let’s go to work! Sillinger’s work ethic was one of the many attributes that made him successful in his rookie season. One attribute that can help him stand out and impress the coaching staff is his work ethic. If he outworks the other forwards competing for spots, then he will put himself in a position to find playing time and to find success.

Cole Sillinger may have the toughest path to making the opening night roster among the forwards. He has the potential and skillset to make the team. But his waiver exempt status and the fact that there is such competition for playing time make him a prime candidate for playing for the Monsters in 2023-2024. He could still make the CBJ this fall and show everyone that last season was an apparition. The 5th line should not forget about Sillinger if he doesn’t make the CBJ this season. He is still a big part of the organization’s future and management still has high hopes for him.