The Columbus Dispatch

Jackets must make choice with Sillinger, world juniors

- Brian Hedger

Cole Sillinger is the last one standing.

All of his peers from the 2021 NHL draft class are playing at the collegiate level, in juniors or European leagues, but Sillinger — an 18-year-old Blue Jackets rookie — remains a lineup fixture in Columbus. He’s been a top-nine forward from the start, has gained experience centering each of the Jackets’ top three lines and appears to be handling it fine.

That’s why Sillinger was preparing to face the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday at Nationwide Arena rather than skating in Calgary during the first day of Canada’s selection camp for the 2022 world junior championsh­ips, a tournament that will take place Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta.

Sillinger, who’s from the western Canadian city of Regina, would almost certainly be snapped up by Hockey Canada if made available. It’s starting to look like that might not happen, though. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gave no update on the situation when asked Thursday, but there is a reason Sillinger is still with the Blue Jackets and not among the 35 players in Canada’s training camp.

He’s a little busy right now. “The goal of everyone in world juniors is to play in the NHL, right?” said Sillinger.

“So, if I’m playing a prominent role (here) and the Columbus staff sees me as an NHL player, full-time, and doesn’t loan me, I think that’s a compliment to me in a way.”

In a big way.

Sillinger is the NHL’S youngest player and has beaten fairly long odds to still be in the league at this stage. Only two other players from the 2021 draft have logged NHL time this season, Anaheim’s Mason Mctavish (third overall) and San Jose’s William Eklund (sixth overall), and each was assigned to a different league after nine games.

Those moves pushed the official start of their entry-level contracts to next season, while the Blue Jackets happily marched right past the nine-game “slide” deadline with Sillinger.

He hasn’t missed a game, is averaging 13:56 in ice time and has 10 points on five goals and five assists. Sillinger has also logged minutes with the Jackets’ second power-play unit and continues to be one of their best at creating scoring chances, which has resulted in some important goals — including one Sunday to help the Blue Jackets defeat the San Jose Sharks.

Kent Johnson, whom the Blue Jackets selected fifth overall in July, paused his sophomore season at the University of Michigan to attend Canada’s camp this week along with Wolverines teammate Owen Power. Mctavish is there too.

At the start of his 17-year NHL career in 1991, Sillinger’s father and former Blue Jackets forward, Mike, played for Canada at the world junior championsh­ip.

The difference is that none of them, his dad included, have or had significant NHL roles at the time.

“That’s a phenomenal tournament, which so many young Canadians grow up watching,” said Sillinger, who missed Canada’s gold medal run at the U18 world championsh­ips in Frisco, Texas, this spring after coming down with COVID-19. “I’ve had a couple buddies go through (world juniors) and just the experience they had, it’s awesome. At the same time, the NHL is a great life as well.”

Forbes report shows value gains for Blue Jackets’ ownership

Forbes Magazine’s annual valuation report about NHL teams is out this week and it shows significant gains for Blue Jackets majority owner John P. Mcconnell and his ownership group.

Despite ranking 30th among 32 teams, the Blue Jackets are now valued at $475 million, per the report’s calculatio­ns, which represents a one-year increase of 53% and five-year gain of 94%.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States