Much like the standard white goalie mask he originally wore last season, Jonas Hiller began his rookie season last year as a blank canvas.
"I was happy with how I played," Hiller said of his rookie year in 2007-08. I think the new contract showed that the team and management were also happy with the way I played."
Trying to find room on a cluttered Ducks roster that already included two battle-tested goaltenders in Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov, Hiller was also trying to get acclimated with the NHL game and his new surroundings.
“I came over here last year not knowing what to expect, how I would play and how everything was going to go,” said Hiller, who head coach Randy Carlyle said will most likely get the start in net for the Ducks in Friday’s preseason game at San Jose.
The murkiness of Hiller’s situation began to clear up upon the waiving of Bryzgalov, who was subsequently picked up by Phoenix in mid-November 2007. Ensured of a permanent place in Anaheim with the move, Hiller’s comfort level quickly began to rise.
Improving with each passing month of the season, Hiller’s peak performance came during the Ducks’ stretch run. From March 1 to the end of the regular season, the 26-year-old netminder owned the second-best goal against average (1.55; 11 goals against in 426 minutes) and save percentage (.952; 217-of-228 shots) in the league.
By the time the season had ended, Hiller had proven to be another proven prodigy of Ducks goalie consultant Francois Allaire and a strong backup to Giguere. A restricted free agent, the Ducks rewarded his play with a two-year extension on June 11.
“I was happy with how I played,” said Hiller, who had a 10-7-1 overall record and a 2.06 goals against average in 23 games during his rookie year. “I think the new contract showed that the team and management were also happy with the way I played.”
Coming to Anaheim this year was a whole different vibe for Hiller, who is just the fourth Swiss goalie to play in an NHL game (along with David Aebischer, Martin Gerber and Pauli Jaks). He’s firmly in place in an apartment now, where early last year he came home every night to a hotel room. He has a better grasp on his team, where to grab a meal and his previous uneasiness has completely eroded.
"It's for sure much easier right now, but on the ice you still have to work the same way whether it's your first year, second year or whatever," Hiller said.
“I think he’s stronger and has a better understanding,” Carlyle said. “The difference with him is that he’s comfortable with his surroundings, enjoys where he’s at and comes to play. He’s a pro.”
While there have been many changes for Hiller in a year’s time, he knows that he must continue to prove his abilities on the ice.
“It’s for sure much easier right now, but on the ice you still have to work the same way whether it’s your first year, second year or whatever,” Hiller said.
Notes: In addition to the previous roster moves on the day, the Ducks also announced that goaltender Marco Cousineau has been sent back to his junior team Baie-Comeau of the QMJHL. The Ducks now have 45 players remaining on its 2008 Training Camp Roster – 28 forwards, 13 defensemen and four goaltenders.
“It’s always good to allow some of your youth to get a little bit of a taste of the NHL,” Carlyle said of the roster moves. “They’ll take the positives out of that and understand there is another level to get to.”
Carlyle also stated the following players are currently dealing with injuries: Josh Green (groin), Ryan Donally (hip), T.J. Trevelyan (concussion-like symptoms), Matt Beleskey (shoulder).