By RYAN MCCRACKEN on January 15, 2021.
The Medicine Hat Tigers will be without one of their most potent offensive threats if and when the Western Hockey League’s 24-game season commences in 2021.
Seventeen-year-old forward Cole Sillinger has opted to join up with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede effective immediately. While the decision will leave him off Medicine Hat’s roster until his season south of the border concludes, Tigers head coach and general manager Willie Desjardins says he has no issue with Sillinger doing what he feels is best in pursuit of an NHL career.
“He just felt that he wanted to get started,” said Desjardins. “He didn’t want to wait in case we couldn’t get going quite as soon. He just wanted to get playing and I didn’t have an issue with that, if that’s what he wanted.”
Sillinger – who was unavailable for comment Thursday as he was en route to Sioux Falls – is in his first year of draft eligibility and was given an A rating by NHL Central Scouting back in October, a status reserved for projected first-round draft picks.
“He’s such a good person and player,” Desjardins said of Sillinger, who recorded 22 goals and 31 assists in 48 games as a WHL rookie last season. “He really works at his game and (Sioux Falls) will do a great job. They’re a good organization and he’s in good hands.”
If the Stampede manage to finish their season, including playoffs, before the Tigers can wrap things up in Canada, Desjardins says Sillinger will be back in orange and black this year. Sioux Falls sits at 7-9-1 on the USHL season – good enough for fifth in the USHL’s Western Conference – and is scheduled to conclude its regular season on April 24. Either way, Sillinger will be eligible to compete with the Tigers again before the draft, as the NHL recently pushed it back from late June to Oct. 6-7.
“He’s a big part of our team, he’s a big part of our future, and that’s part of the agreement – that he’ll be back here again next year,” said Desjardins. “Once their season is done, then he would come back. If we go later than they do, then he could come back at that time.”
Desjardins added Sillinger’s father – former NHLer Mike Sillinger – has contacts across the hockey world as the result of his 17-season professional career, and used them to find the right place for his son during such an important year in his development.
“When things first started, (Mike) talked about a number of places. He talked a little bit about Europe, or maybe B.C. junior or the USHL. He has good contacts in all these spots,” said Desjardins. “The other thing is Cole is a dual citizen so that probably makes it a little bit easier for him going down.”
Desjardins says he believes the rest of Medicine Hat’s roster will remain intact as the WHL attempts to put the pieces together and form a season in the coming months.
“I think everybody else is staying where they’re at,” he said. “I think it was just more Cole’s contacts through his dad that made it a little bit more enticing.”