TRAVERSE CITY – Sonny Milano is one of four Blue Jackets chasing a third consecutive championship at the NHL Prospects Tournament and he’s certainly doing his part to drive offensive production for the team along the way.
“He’s a unique player,” said John Madden, head coach of the Cleveland Monsters and the Blue Jackets’ rookie tournament team. “He’s patient. He does a lot of things - he carries the puck, he handles the puck a lot. He’s got his head up and is probably one of the best skaters I’ve seen out here so far. He’s got a really good skill set.”
In two tournament games, Milano has been noticeable. He has notched two goals and one assist, tying him with Justin Scott for the team’s points lead and with four additional players for tournament points leader. According to pointstreak.com, he’s taken the most shots on goal of any Blue Jacket (8) and is playing on the top line alongside this year’s third overall pick, Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Milano is also leading the team in controlled zone entries, which prove to create more shot opportunities for a team. And more shots lead to more goals. While two games is an admittedly small sample size, in the Blue Jackets’ first game, in all situations, Milano had 36 percent of all controlled zone entries.
In the second game, the 20-year-old had 19 percent of the team’s 43 entries into the offensive zone.
“If you can carry (the puck) in, you carry it in,” Milano said. “Sometimes you have to dump the puck, but (to carry the puck in with control) is always the better play.”
Honing that skill is something that Madden, who compared Milano to Chicago’s Patrick Kane, loves to see and considers a credit to the team’s offense.
“In the neutral zone, he finds those quiet areas,” Madden said. “All of a sudden he pops out and gets some ice. He puts people in bad positions because of how much speed he generates.”
That ability was on display in the Blue Jackets’ victory over St. Louis on Saturday night. Three of Milano’s entries led directly to shots on goal, two by Milano himself, and that is music to the coaches’ ears.
“I’m working on having more of a shooting mentality,” Milano said. “Last year I was more of a pass-first kind of guy. Now I want to start shooting a lot more.”
For a player who had 14 goals resulting from 98 shots on goal in 54 regular season AHL games last year, that only bodes well.
“I developed a lot (across the three years I’ve played in Traverse), mostly last year,” Milano said. “I have to find my game in the pros – which I’ve started to do now.”
Next up for Milano and the Blue Jackets squad is a 3:30 p.m. matinee this afternoon against Chicago. A win puts Columbus in contention for a return to the championship game. Milano just wants to continue to contribute and if he keeps playing the way he has, Madden will be happy.
After Saturday’s win, the coach’s message to his team for the rest of the tournament was clear.
“Everybody played well, everybody followed through on the game plan,” Madden said. “I told them ‘don’t change anything.”