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SvoNotes: Sillinger ready to make history with CBJ

The Blue Jackets center is about to make his NHL debut at age 18

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

SvoNotes will be published by Blue Jackets insider Jeff Svoboda multiple times each week, with news, notes, quotes and analysis of everything CBJ. 

OK, so let's talk a few stats. 

According to the NHL, there are 11 teenagers on opening day rosters, but only two of them are 18 years old -- Anaheim forward Mason McTavish and Blue Jackets forward Cole Sillinger. 

Here's another stat -- when he makes his debut tomorrow night vs. Arizona, Sillinger will be just the sixth 18-year-old to play for the Jackets, joining Rostislav Klesla (2000), Rick Nash (2002), Dan Fritsche (2003), Gilbert Brule (2005) and Nikita Filatov (2008). 

Of those, Sillinger will be the fourth youngest at 18 years, 151 days, with only Klesla (18-88), Nash (18-116) and Filatov (18-145) younger. 

In other words … this is rare air for Sillinger, the 12th overall pick in the 2021 draft who has impressed so far at every point, leaving the Blue Jackets of the belief he deserves to be on the opening night roster. Not only that, he'll play a big role, likely centering captain Boone Jenner and veteran Max Domi.  

Nervous, kid? 

"I'll have some nerves since it'll by my first NHL game," he admitted Wednesday. "If I didn't have nerves, I'd think there's something going on with me. It's very exciting but in a way, just another game." 

If there's Sillinger in a nutshell, though, that's him. He's 18 but already has so much of the on-ice and off-ice game down. On the ice, he plays with a veteran's wiles, as head coach Brad Larsen said Sillinger already understands the finer points of the game in a way someone much older and more experienced would. 

Off the ice, he seems mature beyond his years, at least when it comes to the day-to-day grind of being an NHLer (he certainly has media speak down as well). Perhaps it's because he was born for it -- his father is longtime NHLer Mike Sillinger, and speaking of stats, Cole will become the first-ever CBJ legacy tomorrow night as well -- or perhaps it's because he grew up in that world, but Sillinger said he came to camp thinking he had a chance to make it to opening night. 

"I think the way I thought of it was I'm in this position for a reason, right?" he said. "I had to be confident in my game and in myself as a person." 

It has paid off, but the road certainly will still be bumpy at times. The list of 18-year-olds to excel at the NHL level is pretty small, but it's also a harbinger of big things to come, as most players to debut at that age have long and prosperous careers. 

But for the here and now, the belief is Sillinger can handle what is about to be thrown at him. 

"Any player in this league is going to have struggles in an 82-game schedule," Larsen said. "The one thing I think with him is he's not a one-trick pony. He's not all skill, and if he can't bring that, he doesn't bring any substance to a game. I think why I have enjoyed watching him play and why he's built some trust with me in the short term is even when he's not bringing the offensive side, there's a competitive edge to him, there's a willingness to defend. All those intangibles that you try to teach guys, it really comes natural to him." 

Winger Jakub Voracek -- who debuted at age 19 back in 2008 with the team and is still the seventh-youngest CBJ player to debut -- said Sillinger is ready, and the veteran will do his best to chirp him to try to take the edge off before the game. 

He'll be far from the only person to give Silinger advice, but perhaps his head coach's words are the most prescient. 

"Have fun," Larsen said. "That's it. You don't want to fill his head with a whole lot. Just be competitive, work your tail off and have fun. And enjoy it, because you only get one first game." 

Talking Metro 

Welcome back, old friends. 

One year after the pandemic forced the Blue Jackets into a return to a makeshift Central Division, Columbus is back in the Metropolitan Division, meaning there will be plenty of matchups with Carolina, both New Yorks, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington. 

Only Carolina was in the Central a year ago, so it's been some time since the Blue Jackets have seen their division rivals. There will be four games apiece -- two at home, two on the road -- against most foes but just three apiece vs. the Rangers and Flyers, with two games taking out of the divisional rotation because of the addition of Seattle to the NHL schedule. 

So what should CBJ fans know about each team? Here's a quick summary of a division that is expected to be one of the deeper ones in the NHL. 

Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes are still led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov but made some major changes, in part because star defenseman Dougie Hamilton left in free agency (more on him in a second) and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic was traded to Detroit. Carolina also signed Montreal forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an offer sheet, traded for Ethan Bear and added Ian Cole and Tony DeAngelo to a rebuilt blue line. Add in the new additions of Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta in net and it will be interesting to see if the Canes have the same mobile blue line and aggressive style that has allowed the team to thrive in recent years. 

New Jersey Devils: Hamilton did stay in the Metro, though, signing a long-term contract with the Devils to bring a No. 1 blueliner to the Garden State for the first time in a while. The hope is his offensive abilities help the attack and the power play, while Tomas Tatar also was added to bring in offense and Jonathan Bernier was signed to solidify things between the pipes. With the maturation of such young talent as No. 1 overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, the Devils are thought to be a team on the rise. 

New York Islanders: After back-to-back trips to the conference finals to take on (and lose to) Tampa Bay, the Islanders are the betting favorite to win the division thanks to the usual combination of structured defensive play and opportunistic offense. Mat Barzal continues to lead the attack, but the key will seemingly continue to be the disciplined play preached by Barry Trotz. Nick Leddy has left the blue line but Zdeno Chara returns to Long Island (one reason the team is the oldest in the NHL), though he'll have a new home as the Isles open UBS Arena at Belmont Park this year. 

New York Rangers: It could be interesting to watch the Rangers this year, as a young team believes it's taken the step from rebuilding to contending. That's in part because of the superstar play of Artemi Panarin and Norris winner Adam Fox, but the Rangers also think they've upped the grit component by signing Stanley Cup champion Barclay Goodrow and adding Ryan Reaves as well. Igor Shesterkin also should make the team strong in net, but are there enough pieces ready to shine for new coach Gerard Gallant's team? 

Philadelphia Flyers: This was one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL a season ago, as a team that looked like it could cause major damage when the pandemic hit instead had just about everything go wrong last year. That led to a reshuffling of the deck, with Jake Voracek traded to Columbus for Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis added from Nashville, Rasmus Ristolainen acquired from Buffalo and Keith Yandle signed. That means a rebuilt blue line will be in charge of helping young goaltender Carter Hart rebound from a tough season, which will likely be the key to the whole thing. 

Pittsburgh Penguins: The Penguins machine kept rolling last year, as Pittsburgh again made the postseason for the 15th straight campaign. The drive to make it 16 will include having to overcome early injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel, but things started strongly last night with a win at Tampa Bay. There weren't a ton of major changes here -- and don't forget Jeff Carter is a Penguin now -- but much like Philadelphia, the success of this team could depend on the rebound of a young goaltender in Tristan Jarry. 

Washington Capitals: The Caps and Pens have run the division for the last decade or so -- Washington has seven straight playoff appearances and the 2018 Stanley Cup -- but both are at the back end of their aging curves. Peter Laviolette's Capitals are still led by such familiar names as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson, but much like with Pittsburgh, the focus in Washington this offseason was in keeping the band together for another run.  

This Day in CBJ history 

Oct. 13, 2003: The Blue Jackets' third jersey is unveiled during a ceremony outside of Nationwide Arena. Later that night, the Blue Jackets defeated the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in their first game wearing the sweater. 

Oct. 13, 2016: Zach Werenski made his NHL debut, notching an assist 2:58 into his NHL career during a 6-3 loss in the season opener vs. Boston in Nationwide Arena. 

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