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Hillen and Sloan Add Veteran Intrigue To Preds Defensive Equation

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
Ryan Ellis. Roman Josi. Mattias Ekholm. Teemu Laakso

Ellis vs. Ovi
Predators prospect Ryan Ellis, a 20-year-old standout defenseman, and superstar Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals met briefly on Tuesday night during the preseason game in Baltimore. But no handshakes or formal introductions were held. It came when Ellis checked Ovechkin during the game.

“I give Ellis a lot of credit,” Trotz said. “He was trying to make a statement of, ‘Hey, I can hang with the big boys.’ And he can. He stepped up and tried to lay the hit. But Ovechkin probably had him by about 40 pounds. (Ovechkin) has that man-strength and power. It was a big hit. Ellis actually threw the hit, but (Ellis) flew a lot farther than Ovechkin did. Ovechkin had the size advantage. But I give Ellie a lot of credit. He didn’t avoid it. He went after it. I admire that in him.”
--Bryan Mullen,
Nashville Predators fans have come to know these four names. They are young, talented defenseman drafted by the Predators who are rising quickly. They have limited NHL experience but are battling for a roster spot during training camp.

But there are two other names Predators fans may need to become more familiar with: Tyler Sloan and Jack Hillen. The two defensemen have multi-year NHL experience and could find themselves on the opening day roster in front of the up-and-comers.

“I have liked what I’ve seen from them,” Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re new guys from other organizations and we’re just trying to see what they bring to the team.”

The Predators signed both players during the offseason. Sloan, 30, played in 99 games with the Washington Capitals in the past three seasons and has four Stanley Cup Playoff games under his belt. He had an assist during Nashville’s 5-3 win at Florida on Monday in Game 1 of a doubleheader.

“I’m just really trying to listen, pay attention and watch guys,” Sloan said. “When you’re learning new systems, new techniques and new coaching styles, you really have to pay attention and focus on the details. I’ve felt a little better each day. The first game, I felt pretty rusty. I felt better Tuesday night (against Washington). It’s coming slowly. Camps, for everybody I think, you’re tuning up and gearing up for that season. Every day I’m feeling a little bit better and getting better.”

There were only two full practices leading into the Predators’ three-games-in-two-days marathon earlier this week, but Trotz said Sloan has done what has been asked of him.

“Sloan is a big-body guy,” Trotz said. “We ask him to be a pretty good defender and a responsible guy. He seems to do that.”

Hillen, 25, played in 175 games with the New York Islanders starting in 2007-08. In the last two seasons, he played in 69 and 64 games, respectively. He, like Sloan, said the biggest challenge early on in camp is learning a new system and getting to a point where they can play instinctively within the framework.

What To Watch For...
With the top of the Preds defensive lineup in place --- Ryan Suter & Shea Weber are an All-Star workhorse first pair and Jonathon Blum, Francis Bouillon (when he returns from injury) & Kevin Klein have all shown the ability to play key tough minutes against top opponents --- the competition appears fierce for the final roster spots to fill out this year's defensive corps. If Bouillon is unable to open the regular season healthy, the Preds will likely keep three defensemen from the Ekholm, Ellis, Hillen, Josi, Laakso, Sloan grouping. If the level of play remains too close to call through camp, there's a possibility that the six could alternate stints in the NHL and AHL throughout the regular season.
--Jay Levin,
“For the younger guys who have been brought up in the system, that’s an advantage for them,” Hillen said. “In the first game, I thought I played well. I don’t think I played my best, partly because I was thinking a little bit, trying to figure out exactly what I was supposed to do with some of the system stuff. Other than that, I feel like I played pretty well and got back into it and got my feet moving. I showed that I can skate a little bit. I think (the coaching staff) knows I can skate. I think that’s probably the best part of my game.”

Trotz ageed.

“Hillen is a fantastic skater,” Trotz said. “You probably expect him to bring some offense, but in the first game I didn’t see that. He’s more of a transporter.”

There is still time for Hillen and Sloan to get adjusted to the new system and continue to impress the staff. Training camp is less than a week old and there are five preseason games remaining.

“We’re still getting to know them, and I think they have played fairly well in the games,” Trotz said.

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