In honor of America’s birthday (which was yesterday, I know, but who’s keeping tabs?), Arbour Day profiles another American-born former Islander in Minnesotan Jack Hillen.
Hillen was a guy I couldn’t help but root for from the second the Islanders signed him as a free agent in 2008. He was never drafted, and played college hockey at Colorado College for four years, graduating with an economics degree. He received a two-year entry level deal from the Isles, and as soon as fans saw him toward the end of 2007-08, they groaned in despair. Our blueline was already fairly small at the time, and Hillen didn’t add any size, listed at 5’10″, 190 pounds.
However, there’s one thing Hillen did have, and that’s a quick step out of the zone. He provided some good puck movement for the Isles through his tenure (which lasted 175 games) and managed to put up 50 points altogether in that time, most of them assists. Unfortunately, he never really got the hang of taking the puck to the net himself (although I remember one goal in which he made one opposing team’s defense look incredibly foolish — I wish I could remember the team and find video), but he proved to be mobile and good at feeding to the forwards. He was a decent shot blocker and also had a lovely little hip check, documented here:
During the 2009-10 season, Hillen was the unfortunate recipient of an Alexander Ovechkin slap shot right to the mouth during an Islanders-Capitals game; he missed six weeks with broken teeth and a broken jaw. That was one of a few injuries he suffered during his time on the Island (including injuries to the foot and shoulder). In June of 2011, the Islanders chose not to tender a qualifying offer to Hillen.
Nashville took advantage of Hillen’s now-UFA status and signed him to a one-year, two-way contract in August 2011. Hillen played 55 games for the Predators and managed only his second plus-rating season in his career to date, at a +6. (That might say more about the quality of Nashville’s team overall than Hillen’s individual ability, but I digress.) He wasn’t brought back to Nashville, however, and this FA season he signed a one-year deal with — who else? – Washington.
I think it’s great to see Hillen getting his chances with NHL teams, particularly after going undrafted completely and then struggling with injury during his time on the Island. He is small, but makes a good depth defenseman, and always seemed like a quality guy in the locker room. Best of luck to him with the Capitals — at least he’ll be on the right side of Ovie’s slap shot this time.