By RYAN MCCRACKEN on October 10, 2019.
Cole Sillinger is proving that he was absolute steal at 11th overall in the Western Hockey League’s bantam draft.
Sillinger has been taking the league by storm since opening first full campaign with the Medicine Hat Tigers, racking up four goals and three assists through eight games to lead all 16-year-old players in points through the first three weeks of the season.
“I think I’ve been off to a hot start,” said Sillinger, who was called up to the team for playoffs last year, then got an invite to Canada’s under-17 development camp in the summer. “Last year in playoffs, that helped me adjust. I kind of knew what to expect. Then that camp in July, the U17 camp, it kind of prepared me for where I’m supposed to be at right now.”
Tigers assistant coach Joe Frazer says Sillinger’s commanding rookie presence shouldn’t come as too much of as surprise, as he established himself as a threat in the league long before cracking a full-time spot on the roster.
“Last year he played a couple of regular season games with us and then he didn’t look like a 15-year-old,” said Frazer. “He was more mature than most 15-year-olds, and now having that playoff series under his belt, that experience and then having a great summer – physically he’s matured, and mentally. He’s outstanding for a 16-year-old. I think all that has accumulated into a real good start for him.”
Looking back at some of the team’s first-round forwards over the past few years, Sillinger already stands in a class of his own. Overage captain James Hamblin had two goals in his 16-year-old season. Nineteen-year-old centre Ryan Chyzowski had five the following year before 18-year-old Josh Williams – since traded to the Edmonton Oil Kings – finished his rookie campaign with 11. With four goals in eight games, Sillinger is on pace for north of 30. It’s a small sample size, but the 6-foot, 187-pound lefty sits just two points back of Hamblin for the team lead and shows no signs of slowing down.
“He plays like a 20-year-old out there. He dominates,” said Brett Kemp, Sillinger’s linemate. “He’s one of the guys that you want to have the puck out there. When he has it, you kind of just want to get open because you know he’s going to find you.”
While he was held off the scoresheet in Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Portland Winterhawks, Sillinger was a force on the ice – especially in the third – racking up a team-high 10 shots over the course of the evening.
“Sillinger could have had three or four goals (Tuesday). They didn’t go in but they were creating so many chances,” said Frazer. “I think each game he’s getting better and better.”
Sillinger’s biggest night of the year fittingly came in his hometown of Regina, when he netted two goals and an assist to lead his Tabbies to a 6-2 victory over the Pats in front of friends and family.
“I think I had a hot stick there. It seemed like every shot I took kind of went in and it was nice for that to happen,” he said. “It’s always good playing in front of your home fans.”
Frazer added Sillinger has been benefitting from some serious chemistry with recent linemates Kemp and Chyzowski – a pair of 19-year-olds who have used a speed-and-skill based approach to combine for 11 points with Sillinger over four games together.
“It’s a heck of a line,” said Frazer. “They’ve got a lot of skill and all three guys can shoot.”
The trio first got together during last year’s playoff series against the Edmonton Oil Kings. Ever since reuniting four games into the season, Sillinger says the three forwards have been bonding well, both on the ice and away from the arena
“They’re two great guys,” said Sillinger. “We kind of do everything together. We work out together, we really talk about the game off the ice and just talk about whatever. I think we’re pretty close friends and stuff so that helps with our chemistry on the ice.”
Sillinger and the Tigers (5-2-1-0) return to the Canalta Centre Friday to host the Winnipeg Ice (3-3-1-) at 7:30 p.m.