Flashback to the end of the 2013-14 season with me for just a minute.
The Columbus Blue Jackets earned their second ever playoff berth before losing a tough series to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Optimism around the team was high.
That optimism got even higher at the NHL Draft. Although the Blue Jackets didn’t pick until 17th, they landed a player in Sonny Milano that was a YouTube sensation. If you knew nothing about this player and then saw this video, you saw why there was optimism.
Optimism Turned into Concern
Although you could see the offensive upside of Milano, there was a growing concern about his overall game. Could he play an effective two-way game?
As time went on, more questions surfaced. Would he ever get to the NHL? Would he stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets? Was there even a place for him on the team?
Milano comes into his fourth training camp with the Blue Jackets with one thing on his mind. He was kind enough to spend a few minutes with us on Saturday to discuss the upcoming season and his mindset coming into his fourth camp. Does he believe this is the camp it finally all comes together, especially if Anderson doesn’t sign soon?
Milano on a Mission
“Yeah, I definitely want it this year,” Milano said. “I definitely have higher expectations for myself this year. I know what to expect. I think I had a pretty decent year in the AHL last year. I learned a lot through Madden (Monsters coach John Madden.) I worked on my defensive game and all the things the team wanted me to work on so I think I am ready here.”
Madden has had a positive impact on the Monsters in his short time. He issued a challenge to Milano about his playing time.
“He was hard on me,” Milano said. “It wasn’t easy at first. He made me really play defense. If I didn’t play defense, he wasn’t going to play me. There wasn’t much I could do about that. Slowly I learned and it actually helped me offensively as well by gaining the puck quicker. I also got penalty-killing opportunities. I’m better overall thanks to a great relationship with coach.”
There’s always things to work on in the NHL. Milano comes into this camp a better defensive player than he’s ever been. But when it came to something to work on in the offseason, the Blue Jackets gave Milano a one-on-one coach to work on a particular element of his game. What was it?
“They wanted me to work on my shot,” Milano recalled. “I had a one-on-one coach just for that, shooting one-timers. I definitely got a better shot this year.”
Milano went on and talked about preparing for the run and skate test to improve his fitness. He said he was never a good runner. He spent two days a week in the summer running two miles on those days to prepare. His hard work paid off as he finished the two-mile test in exactly 12 minutes.
Although it was just one scrimmage early in camp, coach John Tortorella said he liked what he saw from Milano in the scrimmage. He scored a goal and looked confident. He’s stronger than he’s ever been. He’s better defensively than he’s ever been. If there’s anyone who believes Milano will make the team, it’s Milano himself. He doesn’t want to go back to Cleveland if he doesn’t have to.
He’s ready to give it his best. We’ll see if it’s enough to make the 23-man roster. If not now, when? He’s one of the players to closely watch in this training camp.