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Gaining Gill: What It Means for the Preds' Defense

by Doug Brumley / Nashville Predators
The acquisition of 6-foot-7 defenseman Hal Gill brings some obvious qualities to the Nashville Predators. He's a big, physical player. He's blocks shots. He's a Stanley Cup winner.

Clearly Gill knows his role, and why Nashville traded for him.

"Hopefully I bring consistency, strength in front of the net, good penalty killing, a long stick," Gill told a throng of media after Predators practice on Monday. "I try to be as solid as I can be, [be] an out for my [defensive] partner. And then help out in the locker room with some leadership and hopefully help out with the younger guys as well."

With just one game in the white, blue and gold under his belt, Gill, age 36, already seems to be a stabilizer for young Preds blueliners like Roman Josi, 21.

"He brings a lot of experience," Josi said Monday, one day after being spending some time paired with Gill in a 3-2 win in Dallas. "He's so calm out there. He always makes the right play and he's never out of position. He talks a lot. He made it pretty easy for me. It was great to play with him.... I can learn a lot from him."

As the last line of defense, goaltender Pekka Rinne welcomes the addition of Gill's size, veteran smarts and defensive prowess. "It's going to help us to have a guy with a big body in front of the crease, kind of a stay-at-home D-man," Rinne said Monday. "He's great at blocking shots and keeping the front of the net area empty and clean."

But for all of his well documented defensive abilities, Gill will also indirectly contribute to the Predators' offense, according to head coach Barry Trotz. Gill will take a bit of the load off of Nashville's All-Star first defense pairing of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber—-two blueliners who are consistently matched against the top offensive lines in the league. Trotz noted that in Sunday night's game in Dallas, Suter and Weber played about three fewer minutes than their average ice time for the season. The result: more energy to display their talents at the offensive end of the rink.

"They had the jump offensively," Trotz said. "Sometimes players want to play more minutes, but even three minutes, you know, where you get a little bit of a break, you still keep the legs under you."

Gill's strength as a penalty killer allows Suter and Weber to slide down and become the second penalty killing defense pairing. Gill and his partner will go out first against opposing power plays now, and will return again after Suter and Weber's second unit, if necessary. But the end result should be less time for Suter and Weber spent killing penalties, according to Trotz, and ultimately less wear and tear on his top defensemen.

As for what Gill's addition to the Predators means to the bottom half of the team's defensive pecking order, Trotz indicated that not much will change.

"We have guys that we could rotate five through and feel pretty comfortable with," Trotz said, "and then have a--be it a [Ryan Ellis], a more offensive type guy, or you just go with six veteran type guys, or five veterans and a young guy. Not that our veteran guys are very old, but you allow that. And then you get depth from a standpoint of injuries, a sickness standpoint, a matchup standpoint. You've got some more size. You've got quickness. You've got skill. So you've got a good complement."

So for now, Trotz doesn't see anyone being a clear odd man out. But Trotz says the sixth defenseman will change regularly on a game-by-game basis, much the same way some of the team's forwards have been mixed into the lineup to achieve desired match-ups against diverse opponents.

"Right now I want to integrate Hal into the group and he's probably a more permanent fixture so it's [a matter of] trying [not] to lose anybody," Trotz said. "Jack Hillen is sort of an easy guy sometimes to take out because he plays left, he plays right, he defends really well, but there are other guys that are maybe better [offensively], like Ellis for the power-play. But defensively, Jack has a little more experience.... Hillen's played pretty well but I've not always kept him in the lineup and that's not his fault. That's my fault. But he's a good pro and he's one of those guys that I know that if something happened, he's right there and he'll do an excellent job for us."

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