Defenseman Hillen Living in the Moment

Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 8:39 AM CT / Nashville Predators Playoffs Coverage
By Doug Brumley  - Nashville Predators
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Defenseman Hillen Living in the Moment
For most hockey players, competing in a Stanley Cup Playoff game would be a childhood wish come true. That wasn’t necessarily the case for Jack Hillen.

“To be honest with you, playing pro hockey wasn’t my dream growing up,” the Nashville Predators defenseman says. “I’ve kind of stayed in the moment at each level. … When I was in high school I really wanted to play college hockey. And when I got to go to college, that was really it for me. Each year that I get to keep playing, I look at it as a blessing. I get to do something I like. That’s the way I look at it.”

Hillen is now in his fourth year as a pro, with 230 games of NHL regular season experience. He made his playoff debut Wednesday night in Game 1 of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series against Detroit, promoted to the starting six when a lower-body injury prevented defenseman Hal Gill from dressing. Hillen played in Game 2 on Friday as well.

“It’s a lot of fun,” the Minnetonka, Minn., native says of playoff action. “It’s really intense and so far—I wish we would have won [Game 2] but we’ve got to go into Detroit and get one of these games at least. I feel like it’s been a lot of fun. You’ve got to enjoy being out there and so far I’ve had a good time.”

Hillen, who was undrafted but signed by the New York Islanders in 2008, joined the Predators as a free agent on August 8, 2011. He has two goals and four assists in 55 games as a Predator, but it’s his defensive positioning that has endeared him to Nashville’s coaching staff.

“Jack is one of those … under-the-radar type guys,” head coach Barry Trotz says. “He always is very efficient. He skates really well. He’s really strong on his feet and therefore he’s got good leverage skills. He’s a good penalty killer. You know what you’re going to get with Jack. He’s a little older. He’s 26 so he’s a little more mature than some other players and he’s got some experience.”

Through two playoff games, Hillen is a solid plus-1 with one shot on net while averaging 7:53 of ice time. It’s roughly half of the time on ice he saw on average during the regular season, but teammate Ryan Suter has been impressed with Hillen’s ability to stay focused despite the reduction in minutes.

“He’s a great team guy,” Suter says. “He works his butt off. When he gets out there he makes the right play 90 percent of the time. You just don’t want guys to make mistakes and he doesn’t. He does his job.”

Hillen has also adapted to a changing role since his time with the Islanders, where he logged more minutes and, according to Trotz, was not only matched against the “top-end speed element guys” on opposing teams but was looked upon to jump into the play on the offensive end.

“He’s a guy that has sort of found a balance with us,” Trotz says. “His role hasn’t been really on the offensive side. It’s been more on the defensive side for us. He can contribute offensively [but] it’s more his ability to have some escapability and also transport the puck up the ice a little bit. His legs do a lot of the work for him.”

Indeed, everyone who talks about Hillen seems to mention his skating ability. He weighs in a bit on the smaller side at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, and realized years ago that his skating ability would be key to his hockey longevity. It wasn’t something he was born with, though.

“I took skating lessons growing up,” Hillen says. “Same guy from 8 years old the whole way through college. … I’ve really tried to work on that. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that I have to be a good skater in order to play at this level. Otherwise there’s really not room for 5-foot-10 defensemen if you can’t skate well. So I’ve kind of had to work on that and make sure that that stays top notch in order to compete at this level.”

As for his 5-foot-10 frame, the graduate of Colorado College (with a degree in economics) hasn’t allowed critics to derail him. He’s confident and comfortable with his size and abilities.

“You learn how to manage out there,” he says. “I’m stronger than people give me credit for, I’m sure. I don’t get pushed around out there because I use my leverage well. So if someone’s bigger than me I can get under them and move them around that way. I’ve never felt like it’s been a disadvantage. I’ve tried to use it as an advantage out there.”





1 z - DAL 82 50 23 9 267 230 109
2 x - STL 82 49 24 9 224 201 107
3 x - CHI 82 47 26 9 235 209 103
4 y - ANA 82 46 25 11 218 192 103
5 x - LAK 82 48 28 6 225 195 102
6 x - SJS 82 46 30 6 241 210 98
7 x - NSH 82 41 27 14 228 215 96
8 x - MIN 82 38 33 11 216 206 87
9 COL 82 39 39 4 216 240 82
10 ARI 82 35 39 8 209 245 78
11 WPG 82 35 39 8 215 239 78
12 CGY 82 35 40 7 231 260 77
13 VAN 82 31 38 13 191 243 75
14 EDM 82 31 43 8 203 245 70


F. Forsberg 82 33 31 1 64
R. Josi 81 14 47 -3 61
J. Neal 82 31 27 27 58
S. Weber 78 20 31 -7 51
M. Ribeiro 81 7 43 11 50
C. Smith 82 21 16 4 37
M. Ekholm 82 8 27 14 35
R. Johansen 42 8 26 10 34
R. Ellis 79 10 22 13 32
C. Jarnkrok 81 16 14 1 30
P. Rinne 34 21 10 .908 2.48
C. Hutton 7 5 4 .918 2.33