Sonny Milano is making the most of this year's Blue Jackets training camp.
He's one of six players who have drawn into five preseason games thus far. In those games, according to naturalstattrick.com, in five-on-five play, Milano's three assists (all primary) have him ranked fifth in points per 60 minutes (3.64) among all Jackets players. He's also fourth on the camp roster in terms of creating rebounds per 60 minutes of play (2.43).
The sample size is small, and these are exhibition games of course, but there's never been a lot of question about the 21-year-old forward's ability to create offense. In 63 games with the Cleveland Monsters last season, his 18 goals and 29 assists were good enough to lead the team in total points. His 17 primary assists were also best among the squad's skaters.
"It feels great to be here right now," Milano said. "I still have to keep playing hard and proving myself to make the roster, but I think I've played pretty well. I've created scoring chances which is definitely a big part of my game. I just have to bear down on a couple opportunities that I've had, and I'm playing well defensively."
That's what the Jackets organization has asked Milano to do - round out his game with more defensive and situational play. And in this camp, it looks like the message may be taking hold.
Milano has been noticeable in these preseason games. He has the kind of talent you can't teach. In addition to his offensive creativity, he transitions well through the neutral zone. And his vision for the ice was on display with a perfect cross-zone assist to Cameron Gaunce in last week's game against Pittsburgh.
After a series of cuts reduced the camp roster by 24 players, the New York native is still in Columbus as one of 29 remaining players on the Jackets roster.
But he needs to be willing to hear what the coaches are telling him about rounding out his play.
Video: Milano talks about his line chemistry with Dalpe
"Safe is death (is our motto) here but that doesn't mean try to make plays every time," head coach John Tortorella said. "It doesn't mean 'I don't care what the situations is, I'm going to put the puck through his legs and around his stick.' (Milano) has to learn about understanding game situations and having structure in his game."
Learning that isn't an easy process. Milano smiles if you ask how it happens. It's a lot of work on defensive zone coverage in practice, watching video, and learning the hard way. When Milano didn't play his best last year, losing ice time was a wake-up call to refocus on what he needed to do.
And, after three years of coaches "barking at him," the lessons seem to be sticking.
"There's a fine line in letting him be himself when you're teaching him structure and discipline in game situations," Tortorella said. "The first thing is, he has to listen and take it in and try to apply it to his game.
"He's improved in the two years I've been here. He's stronger, he's in better shape this year. A player's mindset is an important thing. I think he thinks he can play in this league and that's important."
- Tortorella said Brandon Dubinsky will play in Saturday's 4 p.m. game against Pittsburgh. It will be the centerman's first preseason game this year.
- Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net Saturday.
- After Thursday's 4-3 shootout win over Nashville, the team participated in a brisk half-hour practice on the main ice in Nationwide Arena, before spending the balance of the hour working on special teams play.