It was a bit of a surprise to find out that Sonny Milano wasn't going to be qualified by the Anaheim Ducks and he is headed to free agency as an unrestricted free agent. The Long Island native was part of one of the most creative plays in the 2021-22 season when Trevor Zegras flipped the puck up and over from behind the net and Milano tapped it in mid-air for a goal. Growing up a New York Islanders fan, the 26-year-old winger continues our "best of the rest" series as many fans speculated whether or not the hometown forward could end up in an Islanders jersey for the 2022-23 season.
Milano is a former first-round draft pick in the 2014 draft, selected 16th overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The skilled winger really impressed leading up to his draft year skating for the U.S. National U18 Team in the USDP league. Milano scored 29 goals and 86 points in 58 games, rocketing himself up draft boards around the NHL. After the Blue Jackets selected him, Milano was assigned to the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL to continue his development. In Plymouth, Milano registered 22 goals and 68 points in 50 games.
But it wasn't until the 2017-18 season, three years after Milano was drafted, that he would permanently crack an NHL lineup. Milano skated in 55 games for Columbus in his rookie season scoring 14 goals and 22 points. On February 24th, 2020, Milano was shipped to Anaheim in exchange for Devin Shore. He hadn't quite proven his draft status after his rookie season and Columbus thought it best to ship him out for a fresh start while adding some grit to a lineup of their own.
Milano broke back onto the scene this past season skating alongside Zegras. He amassed 14 goals and 34 points alongside one of the most electrifying talents in the NHL today. The duo was quite good together as well. The Milano-Zegras combo put together a 58.83 CF%, 58.65 xGF%, and 55.93 HDCF% via NaturalStatTrick. In other words, the duo created plenty of scoring chances, including in high-danger situations, and converted plenty.
What's intriguing about a player like Milano is that he has the obvious skill and it's apparent that when he's accompanied by a high-profile line-mate, it brings out the best in him. Perhaps he's not the best option on the market, but he fits in with the desired age group at 26 years old. You could see a situation where Isles GM Lou Lamoriello lures the Long Island native back to his hometown to pull on his favorite team's sweater and fulfill a likely childhood dream.
Of course, Lamoriello shouldn't be committing to anything long-term here. Milano was drafted as a high-profile player, however, hasn't proven enough at the NHL level to be any sort of a difference maker. There's reason to believe he could be a fit on a line with Mathew Barzal, especially when you factor in the Islanders are considered a more complete team than the Ducks last season. Like Zegras, Barzal is obviously a creative high-skilled, high-profile center that has the knack to really wow you. Milano proved he can keep up with the likes of Barzal while playing with Zegras. If all else fails, signing Milano to a short-term contract that won't cost much at all seemingly isn't the worst idea in the world. The Islanders might have to move a contract out to make it work thus creating cap space for themselves, but Milano could be a diamond in the rough.