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Cole Sillinger: 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; One of the Top Offensive Talents in the Draft

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Cole Sillinger is, above all else, a sniper. He has maybe the best shot in this draft class and has lit up the USHL and WHL over the past couple seasons with it. The question marks elsewhere in his game could push him into the mid-first-round, though.

Mike Sillinger #18 of the New York Islanders kisses his wife Karla as their three sons Owen, Lukas and Cole look on as Mike is honored on playing his 1000th NHL game prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 1, 2007 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York
This is the only picture Getty has of Cole Sillinger (furthest to the left). I promise he is now older than pictured here.
Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

Once you dip out of the consensus top ten prospects in a typical draft you start have to making compromises in one area of a player’s game or another to hope to find someone with elite NHL ability. Cole Sillinger is just one of those such cases, as few (if any) players in this draft are as menacing in the offensive zone with the puck on their stick, but big question marks elsewhere in his game create some uncertainty on how he can translate that ability to the next level.

Who is Cole Sillinger?

Cole Sillinger is an American-Canadian dual citizen who was born in Columbus, Ohio and raised in Western Canada, where he played most of his junior hockey before this season. Sillinger, born May 16, 2003, is the son of Mike Sillinger, who played over 1000 games across the 90s and 00s in the NHL, including in, you guessed it, Columbus in the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons, explaining Cole’s birthplace. Sillinger, who is listed at 6’-0” and 201 pounds at Elite Prospects, is a forward with a wicked shot who has generally played center up to this point. He played his draft-minus-one season in the WHL in Medicine Hat and performed very well as a 16-year-old before jumping to the USHL in the pandemic-marred 2020-21 season. The conditions under which he landed (and stayed) in the USHL are helpfully summarized in this profile at The Hockey Writers. A full summary of his career stats from Elite Prospects is screencapped below.

Sillinger career stats.
from EliteProspects.com

In Sioux Falls, Sillinger was just as dominant offensively as you hope a first-round prospect would be in the USHL. Sometimes it can be tough to translate how point totals stack up between junior leagues, even with factors like NHLe, but 24 goals in 31 games in the USHL is a clear enough signal to me of the type of player you are dealing with, especially considering his strong prior season in the WHL where he scored nearly a goal every other game. If the kid can do anything, it’s score goals.

Sillinger has a pretty familiar archetype among prospects, as few well fall as neatly into the “pure sniper” category as he does. Many of the profiles out there on Sillinger have similar things to say about his game, in that he has a world class shot, good offensive instincts, and leaves a bit to be desired elsewhere in his game, particularly in his skating and his tendencies at the defensive end. He’ll have to clean those other things up to be a top player in the world’s best league but with the type of scoring talent he seems to possess, he won’t have to be much more than passable in those categories to have a big NHL impact.

Where is Cole Sillinger Ranked?

Almost everyone has Cole Sillinger ranked somewhere in the teens, with his overall range going from 10th to 20th among the selection of rankings below. He might be as good of a potential scorer as there is in this draft, but the question marks in other areas of his game push him down to that middle-first-round tier of prospects.

What Others Say About Cole Sillinger

A lot of profiles out there get into the same strengths and weaknesses in Cole Sillinger’s play. We’ll start with a summary of his game from January at Dobber Prospects.

Sillinger’s offensive talents are undeniable. He has a great shot and a nose for the net, able to manipulate defensive coverages and attack soft spots with good anticipation. He can stick handle in a phone booth and has good reach to pull in contested pucks away from his body. Sillinger’s effort in the defensive can be lacking at times but his biggest issue is his skating ability, or lack thereof. He has stiff hips and employs an inefficient, lumbering stride that he will have to work hard to improve if he is going to be able to take advantage of his offensive skills at the next level.

Over at the Hockey Writers, Dayton Reimer put together this profile of Sillinger, getting into his offensive dominance in the USHL during the past season but also noting the shortcomings in his game.

He’s demonstrated one of the best shots of the 2021 class, and his 0.82 goals-per-game rate is second in the USHL, just behind Coronato’s 0.95 [as of the writing of this profile in March]. He also is an effective playmaker thanks to his great vision and intelligence on the ice.

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However, his game is not without flaws, and scouts have been concerned about his skating since last season, especially regarding his acceleration and stride. He has made improvements while with the Stampede, which is promising, but it still is not at the same level as many of his peers.

Next, we go to a typically thorough profile from Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports, who hits and expands on all of the points seen in other places in detail. His bit on Sillinger’s shooting really drives home why he is a first-round prospect:

Sillinger is a pure sniper. He might be the best shooter in this draft class. His wrist shot is powerful and accurate. He has quick hands and is able to get the shot off quickly. Sillinger also does a good job of changing the angle on his shot, fooling goaltenders. His snapshot is also very good and features a similar quick release. Sillinger also has a knack for getting open for a one-timer, especially on the power play. His slap shot is also very good. He can even score with a good backhand. Sillinger has the hands to get deflections and pounce on rebounds in front of the net. His lateral agility and hands allow him to move laterally to open up shooting lanes.

That seems to cover pretty much all the bases of having a fantastic shot. The profile also explains that his skating is improving a bit but remains a work in progress and his defensive game includes a bit too much puck-watching and flying the zone early. Kerr then sums up Sillinger’s game, including the flaws, and provides a possible direction he will head post-draft in his projection section, which I think rings pretty plausible:

Sillinger has a ton of offensive talent, however deficiencies in his skating and defensive game will need to be addressed before he is ready for the next level. He is likely to head back to the WHL next season, and working on those aspects of his game for a couple of years in the league would really help him. He may end up a winger instead of a centre at the next level as this could reduce the impact of his skating and defensive play.

Steve Kournianos is a bit of a dissenter on Sillinger’s game as his recent profile is considerably higher on the prospect’s skating and defensive game than others (while still similarly high on his offensive ability). On his skating:

He’s an upright skater with a clunky stride; that much is true. But Sillinger’s straight-line speed is average at worst, and he is both deceptive and rapid with his directional changes in traffic, especially during zone entries. His balance is outstanding and helps him load up a hammer blow towards the net in spite of being draped by opposing pressure.

And Kournianos on his defensive game:

Sillinger can be classified as a 200-foot forward because he shows an aggressiveness on the forecheck, kills penalties, and is more than willing to throw his weight around in the defensive end. But his most noticeable off-the-puck trait is reading plays and anticipating puck travel, especially in the neutral zone. Sillinger isn’t always a hounding checker and sometimes remains static for long periods, but opponents have to be aware of his quick-strike mentality and penchant for picking off lazy passes.

That is definitely divergent from some of the other profiles, but it has been noted elsewhere that he is working on his skating and if he’s a guy who puts in the effort yet just has some questionable tendencies defensively, it’s easy to see how there can be some different takeaways there.

For the flaws pointed out in Sillinger’s game, it doesn’t necessarily seem tied any lack of will on his part, and there aren’t really complaints of that nature that I’ve seen. A deep dive on Sillinger’s background at the Athletic ($) gets into what makes him tick coming from a big hockey family. A quote from his coach in Medicine Hat provides some insight into Sillinger’s approach, which seems like the type of approach that will help him clean up some of the areas of his game that need work.

And though it was Cole’s shot that leaped out most on the ice, it remained who he was, not how he played, that endeared him to his coach.

“What I learned about him is really that he’s a great leader. He doesn’t just bring his game to the table, he changes culture because he’s such a good kid and a hard-working player,” Desjardins said. “It’s his compete. Some guys they just play. For him, when the game’s on the line he always plays his best. And that’s something you can’t see from the outside.”

If his coach is to be believed, he seems like the type of player who can get his skating and game away from the puck to the level necessary to prevent him from being too much of a liability while making a difference as a scorer. Easier said than done but even if there are question marks in his game, they seem far from unsolvable.

A Little Video

An Opinion of Sorts

Sillinger seems like he could be one of those players who a few years from the draft, people are asking “How did this guy fall to the [n]th pick?” A player with the type of offensive talent he seems to have is a rarity, and even if he’s not the complete package at this point, he seems plenty willing to continue working on the areas of his game that need the work. Learning how to better manage your defensive zone assignments is much more doable for a player than learning how to be a lethal offensive threat.

Unfortunately for the Devils, if he is a guy they really like, they probably are not going to be in position to select him unless they make a big, big reach at fourth overall or trade up from the Islanders pick now slated to be at the end of the round. Even if the Islanders got knocked out before the semifinals and the Devils were picking in the late teens, it would have been a bit of a surprise if he was available. He’s a very intriguing prospect, but unless he starts to slide into the 20’s and the Devils trade up from the 28-31 range, they seem like an unlikely landing place.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on Cole Sillinger? Do you think there is any chance for the team to be in position to take him with their second first-round selection? If he slides, could he be somebody you want the Devils to perhaps even trade up from the end of the first round to take? Where do you rate him against the other top offensive talent in this draft? Sound off with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.