Canucks: Hot-shot Sillinger on NHL draft radar with skill, savvy, family lineage

‘There are two things you can control: Your work ethic and your attitude. If you do that, you’re going to be well respected in the hockey community and in everyday life’ — NHL draft prospect Cole Sillinger

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Connecting the National Hockey League draft dots can be difficult. And sometimes it’s easier.


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Cole Sillinger’s shot may be the best among 2021 prospects, and combined with superior skill and sporting lineage savvy, the Western Hockey League force and U.S. Hockey League-loaned sniper will be a centre of first-round attention Friday.

The Vancouver Canucks select ninth and are just as impressed by Sillinger’s game as his maturity. He’s in a trio of centres on the club’s radar with Mason McTavish and Kent Johnson, and regardless of how the draft dominoes fall, he warrants serious consideration. Even if targeted defencemen Brandt Clarke Luke Hughes are still on the board.

Intangibles play a role as a draft separator for Sillinger.

It’s the stuff that doesn’t show up on the scoresheet or measured by a deep analytical dive. It can give a budding pro a leg up on his peers because being immersed at a young age in a hockey-driven family can smooth the eventual transition. Knowing what to expect can be just as vital as getting there.

Sillinger’s father, Mike, logged 138 appearances in three seasons with the Canucks in the mid-1990s as part of his 12-team, 1,049-game career that ended in 2009. His brothers, Owen (23) and Lukas (20), are wingers in the NCAA. And Cole’s junior coach with the Medicine Hat Tigers? None other than former Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins.

“When we interviewed Cole he was a pretty impressive young man,” said Canucks general manager Jim Benning, who also had special advisers Henrik and Daniel Sedin on the call. “Hanging around the rinks when his dad played, he knows what an NHL hockey life looks like. He’s got an NHL shot, is a relentless worker and a heck of a kid.”


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Cole Sillinger in action for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers in February 2020 at the Brandt Centre in Regina against the host Pats.
Cole Sillinger in action for the Western Hockey League’s Medicine Hat Tigers in February 2020 at the Brandt Centre in Regina against the host Pats. Photo by BRANDON HARDER /Postmedia News files

Sillinger’s mettle was tested with the arrival of COVID-19. After a strong rookie WHL season, in which he amassed 53 points (22-31) in 48 games as a 16-year-old playing wing, a minor shoulder injury didn’t hold him back from making a big USHL impact last season in limited games. After being loaned to the Sioux Falls (South Dakota) Stampede when the WHL shut down, Sillinger led the last-place Western Conference team with 46 points (24-22) in just 31 games as a dominant centre.

Sillinger considers it a team effort.

“It’s just the nature of the family,” Sillinger said from his off-season home in Regina. “We’re all super driven, competitive and focused. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you do those three you’re going to be somewhat successful. There are two things you can control: Your work ethic and your attitude. If you do that, you’re going to be well respected in the hockey community and in everyday life.

“It’s great to grow up in that environment. But on the flip side, what my dad did is done and he had a great career and it’s time for us to create our own paths.”

For Sillinger to get an NHL shot, he had to go from skinny kid to gym rat and become a relentless, powerful and hard-hitting 6-foot, 201-pound menace.

“My dad is a thicker guy, so maybe a little bit of it is genes,” he said. “We had a long off-season (COVID) and I took advantage and spent a lot of time in the gym. It helps me play the game I want to play.”

And then there’s that shot. It packs a lot of Brock Boeser with an instinctive release to go with velocity and accuracy,


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“I’m trying to change up my angle to throw off goalies or defenders and never shooting it the same way,” said Sillinger. “I train my upper body quite a bit and that improves my core rotation. It comes naturally when I get into a scoring opportunity and not really thinking about the mechanical side.”

Desjardins knew he had something special from the outset with Sillinger. Part of it was confidence to play on one of the top lines, which is unusual at age 16, and becoming an impact player. He was at wing only because the Tigers had depth down the middle.

“He had a good enough year as a rookie that I felt very strongly he would be a first-round draft pick, whether he played last year or not,” Desjardins said Wednesday. “Instead of resting on his laurels and not playing and taking his chances, he wanted to prove he was worthy to move up in the draft.”

That played itself out at Christmas.

Instead of joining the entire family on a getaway from frigid Regina to sunny Phoenix, Sillinger stayed home and put in the work.

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    Canucks, pre-NHL Draft: Multi-tasking Mason McTavish’s game has heavy hints of Horvat

  2. Jim Benning has plenty to ponder with his first two NHL draft picks this weekend.

    Canucks: Benning buoyed by draft options in a challenging scouting year

  3. Port Moody's Kent Johnson, who is expected to be a top 10 pick in Friday's NHL Entry Draft, was working out in North Vancouver on Monday.

    Highly skilled hometown boy Kent Johnson could be available at No. 9 for the Canucks

  4. Luke Hughes (centre) will join his brothers Jack (left) and Quinn as first round NHL draft picks on Friday. Just where the defenceman goes in the first round is anyone's guess at this point.

    Canucks: Will Luke Hughes drop in NHL draft, just like his brother in 2018?

“He’s such a pro,” marvelled Desjardins. “He wanted to give himself a chance to play if we got over COVID and the decision he made was to make himself a better player. That’s just the way he is. He’s so dedicated to his sport and really exceptional.”

The mutual admiration will help punch Sillinger’s ticket to the NHL.

“Every coach tells his players that he’s a players’ coach, but when Willie says it, he means it,” said Sillinger. “An amazing coach and even a better person. His motto is being the hardest working team in the league. He made me believe I could play in the NHL one day and it has stuck with me.”

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