Jack Hillen with the Nashville Predators last season
Among this summer's class of unrestricted free agent defensemen in the NHL, there is not a bigger prize available than Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter.
The 27-year-old, along with defensive partner Shea Weber, were arguably one of the league's best pairs, shutting down the opposition while also providing offense and leadership.
The Washington Capitals are not in the running for Suter's services, but Tuesday, they signed another Nashville defenseman -- Jack Hillen -- who credits Suter with being an influential force during the early stages of his NHL career.
"I think I've learned so much just from watching...Ryan Suter, because I think he plays a similar style of game to myself, where he's not an overly big guy but he's just always in the right position," Hillen, who signed a one-year contract worth $650,000, said Tuesday. "Ryan makes so many plays...he makes them look so easy."
"I think I learned a lot about body positioning and what style I can play watching Ryan Suter because he does everything well," Hillen continued. "He's always in the right position, he always come out of battles with the puck. His game is what I try to tailor mine after. Watching him for a year, it really helped me develop a little bit more as a defenseman."
It is unlikely that Hillen will provide the Caps with a Suter-like presence, but to even earn an opportunity to prove otherwise, he will have to fight for a spot in what is fast becoming a congested defensive depth chart. With Hillen's signing, the Caps now have eight defensemen (assuming that Mike Green and John Carlson, both restricted free agents, return) on their roster.
Like Green and Carlson, Hillen is a puck-moving defenseman who makes a "good first pass" on the rush. Hillen, who had six points in 55 games last season with the Predators and is actually a former college teammate of recent Caps signee Joey Crabb, is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but said Tuesday that he is a "iittle more physical than a lot of people give me credit for."
Hillen arrives in Washington a few months removed from being part of Nashville's run to the Western Conference Semifinals. Hillen began his NHL career in 2008 with the New York Islanders, where expectations are incredibly low, so to have another chance to play for a Stanley Cup contender like the Caps is something that intrigues him.
"Being with Nashville last year was such a change of pace for me from being with the Islanders," he said. "Nashville has had great success, especially recently. Seeing what it was like to be around that winning organization really helped me open my eyes to a lot of things."
"I'm excited to be joining Washington, another successful organization. What I learned from last year, what successful teams do, I hope that I can come in and help contribute to Washington, who's had great success as well recently."
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamVingan and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.