The son of 17-year NHL veteran Mike Sillinger, Cole was a high WHL bantam pick in 2018 (11th overall) who delivered a strong pre-draft season in 2019-20 with the Medicine Hat Tigers. There he served as a top-six forward and power-play specialist (26 power-play points) but also killed penalties and delivered 53 points and 181 shots (3.77 per game) in only 48 games. Although he was born in Ohio, Sillinger represented Team Canada-White at the 2019 World under-17 Hockey Challenge and tied for third in the tournament with five goals in six games.
As if his impressive WHL production from a season ago wasn’t enough to give him a strong reputation, Sillinger’s pandemic-driven move to the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede for the 2020-21 season all but cemented his standing as a premier draft prospect. Not only did he lead the Stampede in scoring, but Sillinger’s 1.48 points-per-game average doubled that of his closest teammate. Much like his rookie WHL season, Sillinger also fired 3.65 shots a game and still finished top-10 in overall goal scoring in spite of missing over 20 games. It should be noted that Sioux Falls finished second to last in the USHL and had a terrible close to the season to miss the playoffs. The Stampede was slightly better without Sillinger (8-13-2) as they were with him in the lineup (10-19-2). Lastly, Sillinger was expected to play for Team Canada at the IIHF under-18 world championship but was forced to miss the event because of COVID protocol.
Skating and Stickhandling
Sillinger’s unorthodox skating style has made him one of the most scrutinized top-level draft prospects this year. Much like fellow 2021 draft-eligible Brandt Clarke, the criticisms center on aesthetics rather than the end result. He’s an upright skater with a clunky stride; that much is true. But Sillinger’s straight-line speed is average at worst, and he is both deceptive and rapid with his directional changes in traffic, especially during zone entries. His balance is outstanding and helps him load up a hammer blow towards the net in spite of being draped by opposing pressure. If Sillinger’s skating was problematic, it didn’t impact his ability to generate a high volume of shots and torch defensemen and goalies in two premier junior circuits known for defense and goaltending.
There is a high level of finesse and skill involved when Sillinger is controlling the puck, although he can be guilty of overhandling. He’s definitely the one you want orchestrating possessions from the second the puck crosses the red line, but his shot proclivity and set plays make him just as dangerous away from the action. Sillinger uses deception during puck control and uses tactics like gear shifting, delays, look-offs, toe drags, and blade changes to open a lane, beat a defender to the inside or out, and get a goalie to commit first.
Shooting, Passing and Playmaking
Sillinger is a dual threat with keen vision and incredibly soft hands, but his bread and butter is owning one of the nastiest shot-release combinations of any draft prospect in the last several years, and potentially beyond that. There’s simply no way anyone can deny it, and saying he’s already at an NHL level would be somewhat of an insult since most NHL’ers can’t wire it with as much power as Sillinger can. The puck explodes off his blade and he doesn’t require optimal or even standard shooting conditions to beat a goalie cleanly from the high slot or circles. Nearly all of his goals this season came via the wrister or one-timer and on several occasions he literally knocked a goalie off balance with his shot.
Sillinger also has a series of highlight-reel setups from either his forehand or backhand and wastes little time spotting and then connecting with a teammate either diagonally or across the seam. He likes to set up at the right half-wall on the power play, where his shot and passing abilities cause coverage issues.
Defense and Physicality
Sillinger can be classified as a 200-foot forward because he shows an aggressiveness on the forecheck, kills penalties, and is more than willing to throw his weight around in the defensive end. But his most noticeable off-the-puck trait is reading plays and anticipating puck travel, especially in the neutral zone. Sillinger isn’t always a hounding checker and sometimes remains static for long periods, but opponents have to be aware of his quick-strike mentality and penchant for picking off lazy passes.
Physical play is a prominent feature in Sillinger’s game. He shoves hard in the corners, crunches puck carriers into the boards, and will deliver open-ice hits. He also battles hard for net-front positioning and shows fearlessness taking the puck to the net at top speed. You rarely see him get outmuscled off the puck.
Sillinger’s sense for the game is very high and his decisions that impact plays range from subtle to pronounced. The unpredictability he shows the second he crosses into the opposing end is the mark of a cerebral forward. As already mentioned, Sillinger uses deception in nearly all facets of the game and also has the versatility to play either center or wing.