TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – Sonny Milano has already had his ‘Welcome to the NHL’ moment despite the fact he hasn’t played a game in the best league in the world yet. And thanks to what could have been a devastating injury in a prospects tournament, it will be a while before he plays in a game of any kind.
Two periods into his first game at the Traverse City prospects tournament over the weekend, the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect was hit into the boards face-first. His face went into the dasher, fracturing both his left orbital bone and cheekbone. While it was originally thought he could be out eight weeks, the expectation is now that he will miss two, which means he still might be able to get into some action for the Blue Jackets main camp.
“Right now it feels pretty good,” said Milano, whose only battle scar from the incident is a shiner under his left eye. “I feel like if it was a playoff game, I’d be on the ice right now.”
Milano said when the incident first happened, “my nose just started bleeding like crazy,” and he thought it was going to be far more serious. “I thought it was kind of dirty,” Milano said.
“But at the same time I kind of got low on the turn and by accident he got me in the head. I don’t know if it was clean, but there was no penalty called.” The fact it looks a little less serious than first thought is a huge sigh of relief for the Blue Jackets and the Plymouth Whalers, the Ontario League team that owns his rights. Milano signed with the Blue Jackets last week after playing two pre-season games with the Whalers and is expected to be back in Plymouth after recovering from his injury. His recovery time will depend on whether he gets into any action during the Blue Jackets main camp, but he remains optimistic.
“I’ll go back to Columbus and see what the specialist has to say,” Milano said. “At first I thought I might need surgery, but they said, ‘No surgery,’ so that was a big relief. I’d be shocked if I was out more than a week, to be honest. Hearing that whole eight weeks thing I was kind of scared, but seeing where it is no, I’m pretty excited.”
It has been a whirlwind couple of months for Milano, who was taken 16th overall by the Blue Jackets in June. After originally committing to the University of Notre Dame, he switched to Boston College, then decided to play in the OHL. That allowed him to sign a three-year entry-level deal with the Blue Jackets that netted him a $92,500 signing bonus for this season.
Milano, you may recall, is the young man with the off-the-charts stick skills who became a YouTube sensation with his tricks at the NHL Combine, proving beyond a reasonable doubt he can do some eye-popping things with the puck in a parking lot with nobody checking him. On the ice, he was just as good, playing on the left side of a line on the U.S. under-18 team with Jack Eichel, who is expected to compete with Connor McDavid for first overall in the 2015 draft, and Alex Tuch, who was taken 18th by the Minnesota Wild.
Milano was a scoring machine for the U.S. National Development Program, scoring 29 goals and 86 points in 58 games last season, including three goals and 10 points in seven games to help the Americans win the gold medal in the World Under-18 Championship last spring.
With the weight of his decision to opt for the Whalers over college hockey behind him, Milano is looking forward to making his statements on the ice. “It was on my mind all the time, deciding between college and the OHL and the whole NHL contract thing,” Milano said. “It’s kind of nice to get it all over with and just focus on hockey.”