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Gill provides Pens with anti-Jagr

by John McGourty

The Pittsburgh Penguins picked up defenseman Hal Gill from the Toronto Maple Leafs for two draft picks
Hal Gill video highlights 
Hal Gill gives the Penguins the big, strong, stay-at-home defenseman they've needed since Mark Eaton went down with a season-ending knee injury in early January.

Gill was acquired in exchange for Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2008 and a fifth-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft at Tuesday’s trade deadline.

While the Penguins rank 10th with a 2.65 goals-against average, they're a troubling 25th, with only 80.4 percent success, in killing penalties.

Quiet, solid defense, good puck-handling skills and penalty killing are Gill's stock in trade. At 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds, he is one of the biggest and strongest players in the NHL.

Gill ranked second on the Maple Leafs with 102 hits and 121 blocked shots. He led Toronto by averaging 4:54 of ice time killing penalties per game.

He also is one of the most durable players in the League. In fact, an argument can be made that he's the most durable, given the nature of his game. For a player who plays a physical game and blocks shots, it's amazing he has missed only 17 games in 10 seasons since coming up with the Boston Bruins in 1997.

Gill has another overlooked skill: He might have the fastest wrist shot in the NHL. That is, fast in velocity and fast release. He rarely uses his slap shot because it takes longer to unload and isn't much faster. You'll see him use that fast release more in passing than shooting. He has taken only 69 shots this year.

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Some of Gill’s attributes are obvious, size and strength, but he also brings some other valuable qualities. He sees the ice very well and has very good passing skills, not surprising for someone who quarterbacked his high-school football team. He plays without fear and he can hold off the strongest players in the league.

New York Rangers forward Jaromir Jagr said Gill is the hardest defenseman for him to play against because Gill lays his body on Jagr and slows him considerably. Over the course of a game against Gill, Jagr loses power like an old Ford with valve problems.

That's important because Pittsburgh is fighting the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division lead and has losing records this season against both teams. The Pens play the Rangers, who have won three of the teams’ five meetings, three more times. Two of the battles will take place at Madison Square Garden, including the finale of a home-and-home series on the final weekend in March.

The Devils are 4-2 against the Penguins. The teams play in Pittsburgh on March 22 and in New Jersey on March 25.

Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi play the stay-at-home-defenseman role in Pittsburgh while Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are offensive defensemen. Kris Letang has looked good in his rookie season but lacks the experience of playing in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. Darryl Sydor was signed as a free agent last summer and is playing about 17 minutes a night.

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