FanPost

Jack Hillen: Eerily similar seasons, Vastly different views

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It was April 11, 2010.  Jack Hillen had just finished up his first full season with the New York Islanders, posting his 18th assist in his final game of the season. He finishes the season with 21 points and a -5 rating.  Islander fans are full of excitement for Jack and his upside.  They rave about how he is part of the Islanders' future, part of their 'core' as some people put it.  The future is bright for Mr. Hillen.

Fast forward almost exactly a year.  It's April 2, 2011.  Jack Hillen is injured in what turns out to be the final game of his second full NHL season.  Before he leaves the game he manages to pick up his 18th assist.  He ends the season with 22 points and a -5 rating.  But instead of a season full of excitement, from Day 1 Hillen is cast in a different light.  As the season progresses he is repeatedly one of the few Islanders people want to get rid of.  He is no longer seen as part of the core, but instead as expendable.  What happened to Mr. Hillen?  His future, a year ago so bright, had now become cloudy.

The peculiar thing about the change in view on Jack Hillen and his place in the Islanders' rebuild is that he put up practically the same exact season in 10-11 as he did in 09-10.  Here is a comparison of the two seasons:

Year

Games

Goals

Assists

Points

+/-

SOG

PIM

2009-10

69

3

18

21

-5

78

44

2010-11

64

4

18

22

-5

81

45

 

Hillen put up the same number of points, assists, and +/- rating as he did the year before.  He scored 1 more goal than the year before, in 5 less games.  He saw his average minutes per game decrease by 2 minutes from the previous season, and played 71 less minutes on the power play than he did in 09-10.  Yet he still posted similar numbers and ranked third among Islanders defenseman in scoring.

So why the change in outlook towards Hillen?  Why has he gone from an integral part of the rebuild in fans eyes to waiver fodder or trade bait?  I believe the first reason lies with former coach Scott Gordon.  For whatever reason, be it a change in Hillen's outlook towards his job or pressure from the front office to play their recent free agent signings first, at the season's outset Gordon deemed Hillen to be Bruno Gervais 2.0.  He became Bruno's partner in the press box, the odd man out when he had seemed to have a job sewn up before training camp began.  I think this got fans starting to think of Hillen in a different light.

The second factor was his play before New Year's.  In his first 24 games of the season, Hillen had no goals and only 2 assists and was a -7.  It was a terrible first half of the season for Hillen and I think it may have been a case of shattered confidence.  Here is a young kid who was being talked up the year before and then the harsh reality of the NHL set in and he found himself in street clothes on Opening Day.

Whatever the case may have been, Hillen managed to turn his season around in 2011.  In his final 40 games he scored 4 goals and had 16 assists for 20 points and a +2 rating.  Hillen saw his minutes increase, partly as a reult of injuries to other defenseman and partly due to his better play, and he showed us that he can still be an integral part of the Islanders' future success.

I believe Hillen is a good third pairing defenseman.  Just like all teams need third and fourth line forwards, they also need third pairing defenseman.  I think if paired with a tall, physical, defense-first d-man, Jack can be a very good fifth or sixth defenseman.  But has Hillen's perception with the rest of Islanders Nation changed?   With possibly 10 defenseman vying for 6 starting spots on the Isles' blue line next year, this upcoming training camp will be an important one for Mr. Hillen and his future in blue and orange.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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