If there's one thing you can't accuse Sonny Milano of, it's being the least skilled player on the ice.
To fans outside of Anaheim, Milano might not really be on many people's radars. At 25, he hasn't played a full NHL season yet. He couldn't make it in Columbus, and struggled to play an impact in his early Ducks days. His career-high in points is 22 back in 2017-18. At best, we're talking about a third-line player.
But that all changed this year. With 20 points in 22 games, Milano has established himself as a major piece of Anaheim's season-long return to glory.
And he got his name into the headlines on Wednesday after batting the puck out of the air on a Trevor Zegras goal that people won't stop talking about for weeks to come. The real focus was on the creative way Zegras seemingly faked a lacrosse-style goal, only to instead flick it to Milano NHL 06 style to beat Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen.
A goal like that isn't surprising if you followed Milano's junior career. Quite regularly, Milano was scoring highlight-reel goals with the USNTDP and, later, the OHL's Plymouth Whalers. The NHL even did a series showing off his incredible skill seven years ago while he was still a developing prospect. His handwork was among the best in his age group, but it never seemed to really translate into NHL success.
That's not uncommon. Look at Robbie Schremp, for example: the guy was as skillful and creative as they come, but he never really found his footing with the NY Islanders. He absolutely crushed the AHL in his first two seasons and had 384 points in 247 OHL games – few players were better during the 2000s. But in the NHL, he had just 54 points in 114 games in five years and spent much of the next decade bouncing around Europe.
You can't make it to the NHL on skill alone.
But Milano, over time, has developed his game to be more rounded. His defensive game used to be a disaster – it's not perfect now, but it's very much improved. Milano is more aggressive fighting for the puck and his skating has gotten better over time, too. Having Ryan Getzlaf as a teammate for a long time has seemed to pay dividends, and the Ducks are getting great hockey out of Milano as a result.
Statistically, only Adam Henrique (53.71) has a higher 5-on-5 Corsi-for percentage than Milano (53.45) on Anaheim, with Rickard Rakell (64.29) being the lone man in front of Milano for the Goals-for percentage lead. Milano is first with a 3.01 points-per-60 stat, mainly due to his impressive 1.5 primary-assists-per-60, according to Natural Stat Trick.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Milano's 1.5 wins-above-replacement is good for seventh in the NHL, with his 8.4 goals-above-replacement being tied for eighth. So, this isn't someone that's getting carried along the way on a Ducks team that is clearly outperforming expectations – Milano is the one doing much of the damage. Having one of the best young playmakers in the league in Zegras helps, but as a whole, that combo has been rocking together, and the results have been utterly clear.
Among the other top talents in Anaheim, Milano has been fun to watch. Troy Terry has been a revelation, Zegras has been excellent as a rookie and Milano is at nearly a point-per-game rate and should have the best numbers of his career by Christmas. Not too shabby for a player that actually started the season in the AHL and only saw eight games of pro action last year, including a scoreless six-game run with the big club.
It was starting to look like Milano didn't have what it takes to be a full-time NHLer, something he has wrestled with for most of his career. Now, there's no doubt whatsoever.