Cole Sillinger appreciated how much his father, Mike Sillinger, was always counted on in the big moments throughout a 17-season NHL career when he played for 12 different teams.
“I was super young when he was playing, but I do remember that he was really relied upon and I thought that was pretty impressive,” said Cole, at 17 years old the youngest of three siblings. “Every time there was an important face-off to take or a key situation, he was usually out there. I thought that was really neat that coaches and teammates saw him as that type of a reliable player.”
Cole Sillinger (6-foot, 190 pounds), an A-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list, has been earning that same type of respect as a center for Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League this season.
“I played against [Mike Sillinger] and that’s exactly who he was: taking big face-offs in the last minute of the game, killing a big penalty, blocking a shot, whatever it took,” Sioux Falls coach and general manager Marty Murray said. “It’s not surprising Cole has some of those hereditary attributes as well and that’s who Cole is. When the game is on the line, whether you’re up or down, he wants to be on the ice.”
Murray scored 73 points (31 goals, 42 assists) in 261 NHL games over eight seasons for the Calgary Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Los Angeles Kings. Mike Sillinger scored 548 points (240 goals, 308 assists) in 1,049 NHL games for the Detroit Red Wings, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Vancouver Canucks, Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and New York Islanders.
“I showed Cole some video and explained to him what I did to play as long as I did,” Mike Sillinger said. “I was a third-line, fourth-line grinder, played the penalty kill, the power play … I just did what it took to be accepted with the team. You can’t complain because you’re playing in the best league in the world, so whatever line you’re on, whatever ice time you get, you can’t control it but you can enforce it.
“That’s what I think Cole has done here in the USHL. I just see all the intangibles, his commitment to the game. This kid is driven and competes, has the hockey sense and smarts.”
Cole Sillinger scored 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) as a rookie with Medicine Hat of the Western Hockey League in 2019-20 but opted for Sioux Falls this season with the uncertainty surrounding the start of the WHL season due to the coronavirus pandemic. He plans on rejoining Medicine Hat next season.
“(Medicine Hat coach/GM) Willie Desjardins is a true professional and took Cole’s development and, this being his draft-eligible year, into consideration,” Murray said. “That allowed him to come to Sioux Falls. If you’d ask me a year ago we’d have a player like Cole Sillinger in town, I would have thought you were crazy, but just chalk it up to 2020-21 being a crazy season where you can expect the unexpected.”
Sillinger leads Sioux Falls with 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists), 1.48 points per game and 113 shots on goal. He’s also scored five power-play goals, two game-winning goals and a shorthanded goal.
“I’d say I’m an elite scorer and I like to use my shot or my release all over the offensive zone to score goals,” Sillinger said. “I compete and am hard to play against and I play with an edge. I’m not afraid to get into greasy areas and play an all-around game.
“One player that’s stood out to me is (center) Bo Horvat of the Vancouver Canucks. I just feel like he’s a real good two-way guy who takes care of his D-zone and is relied upon in so many key situations. He’s always like 5 feet away from everybody, supporting his wingers or defensemen. and that’s something I try to bring to my game.”
Murray said Sillinger has improved his shot and release to where they’re as good as he has ever seen in junior hockey.
“I’m more of a quick-release kind of guy, so I like to change up my angle,” Sillinger said. “When I’m coming down on a 1-on-1 or a 1-on-2, I like that quick little toe-drag, pull shot. I’d probably say the one difference in my game from dad’s is the shot … I’d like to think I take home the belt in the shot department, but I don’t know.”
Sillinger is projected as a first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Mike Sillinger was chosen No. 11 by the Red Wings in the 1989 NHL Draft.
“It obviously depends on what teams are looking for,” Murray said, “but for me, one of the first things you look at is their competitive nature and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody that’s more competitive than Cole. Finishing this season strong is going to be important for him, but he’s really taken advantage of a situation this season where he’s seen his draft stock rise.”
PROSPECTS ON THE RADAR (listed alphabetically):
Tyler Boucher (6-1, 205), RW, USA U-18 (USHL): The son of Brian Boucher, a goalie for 13 NHL seasons, has established himself as a power forward in the 2021 draft and is a B-rated skater on NHL Central Scouting’s players to watch list. The 18-year-old is progressing well after sustaining a knee injury Jan. 14 and is expected to return to the ice in May. He scored 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 12 games (0.92 points per game) this season after scoring 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 43 games for the Under-17 team in 2019-20.
“You don’t get to this level without compete and work ethic and the things that separate you, because eventually you’re going to be with just as talented or more talented players, but what Tyler brings to the table is a lot of skill,” NHL Central Scouting’s senior manager David Gregory said. “He’s got very good vision and hockey sense and can fly with the puck, but at the same time he’s thinking to make the right play, so that’s a deadly combination.”
Josh Doan (6-2, 180), RW, Chicago (USHL): The son of former NHL forward Shane Doan is a B-rated skater and is tied for third in the USHL with 65 points (27 goals, 38 assists) in 51 games. He has also scored seven power-play goals.
“He is showing glimpses of playing a heavy game with skill thrown in, like dad,” NHL Central Scouting’s Greg Rajanen said. “He’s a good skater who pursues the puck hard and is quick in tight spots. He’s very strong with the puck, protects it well down low and is hungry around the net. He plays a 200-foot game and has a high-end compete. Josh has really elevated his game from last year (14 points; five goals, nine assists in 45 games).”
Shane Lachance (6-4, 195), LW, Boston Jr. Bruins (NCDC): The 17-year-old is the son of former NHL forward Scott Lachance and grandson of United States Hockey Hall of Famer and former Boston University coach Jack Parker. The C-rated skater scored 15 points (six goals, nine assists), five power-play points (three goals, two assists) and two game-winners in 25 regular-season games for the Junior Bruins of the National Collegiate Development Conference.
“Shane is a really interesting player; here’s a guy that has really good hockey sense,” Gregory said. “He’s impressive in tight situations for a big guy with nice hands and he’s gotten a lot bigger over the last couple of years. His skating has gotten a lot better from last year to this year.”
Ryan St. Louis (5-10, 168), LW, USA U-18 (USHL): The 17-year-old C-rated skater is the son of former NHL forward Martin St. Louis. He has scored 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) in 43 games for the Under-18 team.
“Here’s a player you really see a lot of his dad in the way he’s structured and just his stride,” Gregory said. “He understands the game in all zones, competes hard, and he’s really tricky when he’s got the puck on his stick and with the kind of play he’s going to make. I think he’s got a lot of his dad’s pedigree, which is going to bode well for him for sure.”
Photo: Jasen Robbennolt (Sioux Falls, USHL)