For Sonny Milano, Last-Chance Deal With Capitals The Best Move Of His Career Yet
The Washington Capitals brought in Sonny Milano on a one-year, $750,000 deal after he ended up being a UFA to start the season. That low-risk, one-way contract has become the best thing for his career.
ARLINGTON, V.A. — Back when he was still playing youth hockey on Long Island, a bright-eyed Sonny Milano made his way to D.C. for a game against the Little Caps at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. While he was there, he camped out in front of the facility in hopes to meet then-rising star Alex Ovechkin while he was walking out, and he succeeded while snagging a photo and autograph. Years later, Milano is at that same facility, but this time, Ovechkin is his teammate, as a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals has turned into one of the best things for the Massapequa native's career.
After being released from a PTO he signed with the Calgary Flames ahead of training camp following a quiet summer with no real NHL offers, Milano was without a job three games into the season. Then, the Capitals came knocking as the only team to offer him a one-way contract, and in need of a job, he took it. That low-risk deal quickly became one with a high reward for both sides, as Milano has gone from a depth signing amid injuries up front to being a fundamental part of the top 6 that just earned a three-year extension.
"I think I just fit in pretty well with these guys," he said. "Like I said, my energy and speed, I think I use some of that and I think that's what I'm bringing."
Through 36 games this season, the 26-year-old has eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points, which would put him on pace for a 48-point season had he played in all 81 games. He helped fill a big void up front with Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson missing the start of the season, and with Connor Brown tearing his ACL, T.J. Oshie missing significant stretches amid injury and Anthony Mantha experiencing inconsistency, he has stepped up to bring much-needed secondary scoring to the table.
Now, with Backstrom and Wilson back in the lineup and head coach Peter Laviolette facing difficult decisions with two forwards needing to sit out each night, Milano has kicked things into a higher gear to keep his job. He's not only done that, but he has also proven to be the answer of where Backstrom and Wilson fit in best, as the "BMW" line has been making waves for Washington.
“Obviously two experienced players that I try to just follow their lead and create a lot of space," Milano said. "It’s definitely nice playing with them.”
READ MORE ON WHN: A Deeper Dive Into The 'BMW' Line & Their Success For The Washington Capitals
Not only have the Capitals been a perfect fit, but the organization has given him the opportunity to grow and continue to build and define his game. For Milano, that in itself was huge, as he had some critics to prove wrong. That includes misconceptions about his two-way play and overall effort, which was arguably a factor in why so few teams bit the bullet when he hit the market.
"The mindset going in, just working hard and then the skill set comes after that I think. A lot of people think I play a skill game and don't work too hard. I think I got a reputation there maybe as a kid or juniors or early in my career, but I think that's long gone," Milano said. "Everyone else sees it, and I think the coaching staff sees it, so that's important. I'm just kind of having fun in the games."
Working under head coach Peter Laviolette, Milano believes that he has improved his work ethic and has shown that he can hustle on the backcheck, battle in his own end and bring more to the table than what he does offensively. He has also done a lot to define himself as a top producer at 5-on-5.
"I can do a lot more things than just make some plays," he smiled matter-of-factly.
Now, as he navigates the second half of the season, he is eager to avoid falling down the same rabbit hole and narrative as last season in Anaheim, where things dropped off after a red-hot start. With a fresh mindset, Milano said he is ready to keep the good times rolling, and also added that having a lot of leaders in the room, beyond his childhood idol in Ovechkin, is key.
"All these guys, it's probably one of the older teams in the league and definitely a more experienced team, so I'm looking up to all these guys," Milano said. "Not just Ovi. Ovi's the captain but it's more than just him. It's a bunch of other veterans that I look up to.
"I always loved playing here on the road," Milano said earlier in the year. "I like it even better playing here. I'm on this team now."