Defenseman Hillen Living in the Moment

Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 8:39 AM CT / Nashville Predators Playoffs Coverage
By Doug Brumley  - Nashville Predators
X
Share with your Friends


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.”

SMASHVILLE CENTRAL

SCHEDULE
 

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS
 

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 51 24 7 228 221 109
2 y - STL 82 51 24 7 239 197 109
3 x - NSH 82 47 25 10 226 202 104
4 x - CHI 82 48 28 6 220 186 102
5 x - VAN 82 48 29 5 236 220 101
6 x - MIN 82 46 28 8 227 198 100
7 x - WPG 82 43 26 13 223 204 99
8 x - CGY 82 45 30 7 237 213 97
9 LAK 82 40 27 15 218 197 95
10 DAL 82 41 31 10 257 257 92
11 COL 82 39 31 12 209 223 90
12 SJS 82 40 33 9 224 226 89
13 EDM 82 24 44 14 193 276 62
14 ARI 82 24 50 8 165 267 56

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
F. Forsberg 82 26 37 15 63
M. Ribeiro 82 15 47 11 62
R. Josi 81 15 40 15 55
S. Weber 78 15 30 15 45
C. Smith 82 23 21 11 44
C. Wilson 77 20 22 19 42
M. Fisher 59 19 20 4 39
J. Neal 67 23 14 12 37
R. Ellis 58 9 18 8 27
S. Jones 82 8 19 3 27
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Rinne 41 17 6 .923 2.18
C. Hutton 6 7 4 .902 2.61