WASHINGTON – The Washington Capitals added depth to their blueline late Monday night, signing free agent defenseman Jack Hillen to a one-year $650,000 one-way contract.
Hillen had two goals and six points in 55 games with the Nashville Predators last season and will likely compete with the likes of Jeff Schultz and John Erskine for a shot at being the team’s No.6 defenseman.
With Hillen onboard, general manager George McPhee now has five defensemen signed to NHL contracts (not including Tom Poti who remains on Long Term Injured Reserve or LTIR), with restricted free agents Mike Green and John Carlson expected to re- sign in the coming weeks.
Dmitry Orlov remains on his entry level contract, but McPhee expects the 20-year- old to have an expanded role with the Caps next season. Add it all up and the Caps may have eight NHL defensemen next season fighting for six spots.
“I’m just really excited to be with Washington and help add some defensive depth to their blueline,” Hillen said in a conference call Tuesday.
“I think I’m a good puck moving defenseman who makes a good first pass and I’m a little more physical than a lot people give me credit for so that fits in well with Washington’s style of play.”
The 26-year-old is entering his fifth full professional season following a four year stint at Colorado College of the WCHA. During his senior season in 2008, Hillen was named the WCHA’s Defensive Player of the Year and a WCHA First Team All Star.
Hillen was teammates for two years in Colorado with fellow free agent signee Joey Crabb. Crabb and the Capitals agreed on a one-way deal Sunday night.
“Joey and I got along real well at [Colorado College], we had a great experience there, he’s two years older than me and I’m really happy for Joey that he got a nice contract. He’s just a great guy and I’m sure that he’s going to help the team a lot this year.”
Following his NCAA career, Hillen signed with the New York Islanders where he remained through 2011. While on Long Island, Hillen developed into a dependable NHL defenseman notching career-highs of four goals and 22 points in 64 games in 2010-11. Hillen also finished second on the Islanders that season with 157 blocked shots.
Hillen then signed with Nashville last summer, where he’d eventually get his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The 5-foot-10 inch, 190-pound blueliner dressed in two of Nashville’s first-round games in April and is anxious for the opportunity to play more meaningful games come spring.
“Being with Nashville last year was such a change of pace for me from being with the Islanders,” Hillen said.
“Nashville has had great success, especially recently, and seeing what it was like being around that winning organization really helped open my eyes to a lot of things. I’m excited to be joining Washington, another successful organization and I think what I learned from last year is what successful teams do. I hope that I can come in and help contribute to Washington who’s had great success as well recently.”
Hillen, who also represented the United States at the 2010 World Championships, spoke highly of his former teammates in Nashville Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. “I learned so much just from watching, especially from Ryan Suter because I think that he plays a similar style of game to me where he’s not an overly big guy but he’s always in the right position,” Hillen said of the NHL’s most coveted free agent defenseman.
“I learned a lot about body positioning and about what style I can play from watching Ryan Suter because he does everything well. He’s always in the right position, he always comes out with the puck and his game is what I try to tailor mine after. I think watching him for a year really helped me develop more as a defenseman.”