By JAMES TUBB on October 13, 2021.
Cole Sillinger went to his first NHL camp for one reason: to make the opening night roster.
He says he didn’t know if he’d make it but his mindset was he was there for a reason and wanted to give himself a chance, which he did. The Blue Jackets announced Monday that the 18-year-old had made the team to start the season.
Sillinger says it’s an honour to make the big league.
“It’s obviously an honour and I’m really looking forward to it” he said. “For me the hardest thing to do is stay. So I’m gonna see how I do these first couple of games and make adjustments I need to do and just try to take everything all in and go from there.”
Sillinger will be one of two 18-year-olds on an NHL roster to start the season. He is also the first player to go straight from the Sioux Fall Stampede of the USHL to the NHL level. Sillinger played for the Stampede last season due to uncertainty in the WHL re-starting due to COVID-19.
There he had 24 goals and 46 points in 31 games before being drafted 12th overall by the Blue Jackets in July.
The Blue Jackets open their season at home against the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday. Sillinger says his parents will be in attendance for his first game alongside family friends from when his dad, Mike Sillinger, played two seasons in Columbus.
“It’s unique to be able to play my first NHL game in the city where I was born. It’ll be a really special night not only for me but for everyone who was involved to get me to this point,” Sillinger said.
He says his first call was to his parents and brothers who all congratulated him on making it to the NHL. He says they were happy but not shocked he had made it.
Sillinger has worn number 34 throughout Blue Jackets training camp and says he will stick with it heading into the season. He wore number 44 in his time with the Tigers before switching to 34 with the Stampede because another player had 44.
He says he isn’t too concerned about the number he wears and wasn’t going to ask Columbus defensemen Vladislav Gavrikov to give up 44.
The Saskatchewan product played 52 games for the Tigers, where he had 22 goals and 55 points in his two seasons. His first full season in Medicine Hat was cut short when the WHL shut down due to the pandemic in March 2020.
Tigers associate coach Joe Frazier is happy to see Sillinger make the NHL right out of camp.
“Our two goals each year are to win a championship and sign a pro contract,” Frazier said. “For us to be able to watch him in the NHL, it’s gonna be great and I know the guys are pumped for him and we’re just thrilled for him.
Frazier says he could tell when Sillinger joined Medicine Hat for four games in 2018-19 that the then 15-year-old was a special player and person.
“He’s so mature for his age, one of the hardest workers I’ve ever come across,” Frazier said. “So it’s no surprise where he’s at. He’s put the work in and he’s earned everything he’s gotten.”
Sillinger says he is looking forward to facing off against superstars he grew up watching and enjoying the NHL lifestyle.
“Growing up watching guys like Crosby, guys like MacKinnon, it’ll be pretty special if I get the chance to play against those guys, Sillinger said. “I think that’s when it will click in that I’m playing in the NHL … I think the whole NHL lifestyle, you can never take it for granted. It’s gonna be super cool and I have a chance to play with some super superstars.”
He says you never know what will happen but if the Cole Sillinger era is over in Medicine Hat he will thank the organization and will be back to watch his former teammates.
“Medicine Hat has played a huge role in my development, with the whole coaching staff there; Willie, my whole entire Tigers’ teammates, they’ve always been super supportive of me,” he said. “I love the city of Medicine Hat and had great billets there and our fan base, everything about Medicine Hat was first class.”