Columbus Blue Jackets center Cole Sillinger struggles to a slow start

Cole Sillinger is familiar with the term “sophomore meltdown,” having heard it from his Blue Jackets teammates and coaches before this season.

He just doesn’t see why he should worry.

“When that term, ‘second-grade crisis,’ bothers me,” Sillinger said, a 19-year-old center who scored 16 goals as a rookie last season and was the only member of the 2021 NHL Draft play in the league from start to finish. “I don’t really see it that way. There is no reason for these things to happen. I mean, it’s the very beginning of our season and I don’t expect it to be any harder. It’s still going to be hard. Nothing will be given to you. You have to win it all and I’m looking to do that this year.

So far it has been hard work.

Sillinger is struggling to start his second NHL season and it started on the first day of training camp with a ‘minor’ upper-body injury in practice that forced him to miss the toughest games. physically and mentally from pre-season. Upon his return, he took some time to regain his skating legs and then he had what could have been a ‘goal of the year’ entry. during the season opener at the Carolina Hurricanes overturned by a coaching challenge for offside.

Sillinger’s incredible solo effort to beat the entire Hurricanes shorthanded unit, including top goaltender Frederik Andersen, was overruled on a review decision and he hasn’t sniffed the net much since. Going into a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday at Nationwide Arena, Sillinger has no goals or assists in the first seven games.

That’s not how he envisioned the start of this season after working a lot in the offseason in the gym and on the ice. Sillinger’s stats, however, aren’t coach Brad Larsen’s main concern. More important is the way Sillinger, jackets 12e global choice in 2021has an impact on the game apart from goals and assists.

Cole Sillinger, who scored 16 goals as a rookie last season, had no goals or assists in Tuesday night's first seven games.

Cole Sillinger fights for the Columbus Blue Jackets

On that front, Sillinger was more like his rookie form in the Blue Jackets’ 5-1 road win on Sunday against the New York Rangers, but there’s plenty of room for growth. Sillinger has been noticed positively, centering an effective third line with fellow first-rounders Yegor Chinakhov (2020) and Liam Foudy (2018), but the aim is to do so consistently.

Sillinger is no longer an unknown entity. Opposing teams learned all about him last season and know what to expect when he’s on the ice now. Larsen, however, believes the biggest challenge is in Sillinger’s mind. It’s not easy for players to deal with heightened expectations, regardless of age, so what he’s going through now isn’t too surprising.

It’s a test of character that most NHL players have to pass, and Sillinger faces it at age 19.

“Whatever you do your first year really sets the bar for your second year,” Larsen said. “You score 16 (goals) and I think he was around 30 points (last season), so now in your mind it’s like, ‘Well, now I need 20 (goals) ‘ and it doesn’t just happen. … It’s our job to try to help him through this and set the compass a bit for him.

The good news is that it is still very early in the season and Sillinger’s determination remains unwavering.

“I feel like the whole last year there’s been a lot of ups, a lot of downs,” he said. “There were times when I felt I had a lot of opportunities to help offensively and there were times when I didn’t think I was doing enough. This year I just want to be consistent in the three zones and be the reliable player that I know I can be.

October 22, 2022;  Columbus, Ohio, USA;  Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Nick Blankenburg (77) battles Pittsburgh Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen (42) for the puck during the second period of the hockey game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Joseph Scheller-The Columbus Dispatch

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The Blue Jackets face a multitude of injuries. Patik Laine (sprained elbow) and goalkeeper Joonas Korpisalo (hip) remain on injured reserve, while forward Justin Danforth and defenseman Nick Blankenburg have left with upper-body injuries in the past two games. Danforth, injured in the first period of the Jackets’ 6-3 loss on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguinsis out “indefinitely”, and Blankenburg’s status after he was injured Sunday against Rangers was not known Tuesday morning. … The Blue Jackets recalled defender Gavin Bayreuther Cleveland Monsters Monday.

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@BrianHedger

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