Today we continue with Pt III of the our Islander forward preview for the 2007-08 season and discuss Andy Hilbert, Trent Hunter and Mike Sillinger.
Part One Part Two.
Hilbert was given a two year extension by the club this summer after he decided to become an unrestricted free agent and could have signed anywhere for a short time. Expect Hilbert to go right back on a very effective checking line with Mike Sillinger and Trent Hunter that carried the club for a long stretch of games last season and contributed like a first line. Anyone who followed Hilbert during the 2005-06 season in Pittsburgh saw him on a line with Crosby produce nineteen points in about twenty games and was not resigned.
Hilbert for a smaller player brought a lot of grit and was not shy about going into the corners and working hard at both ends of the ice. His defensive play was very under rated but these are two reasons why the club brought him back. Problem last year was Hilbert simply could not finish his chances as he did in Pittsburgh and it hurt his confidence. Speed and skill are not a problem, he brought both and for a short stretch was producing well. Between playing through an injury, another scoring slump and the Islanders acquiring Ryan Smyth, he was relegated to a fourth line during the playoffs and did not produce in a limited role.
This year it's time for Hilbert to take the next step. Two year deal or not he must produce and finish his chances or he will lose his spot to another player. Other area's of his game are solid and like many he's at a point where the Islanders should see his best hockey.
Best free agent signing this club had made in well over a decade. Easy to see from day one why so many teams trade for a Mike Sillinger,impossible to see why few teams ever gave him a long-term deal because he looks like part of the solution if you put him in the right role. Not only did Sillinger produce at both ends of the ice in 2006-07 but was outstanding on faceoffs and special teams. Sillinger's intangibles won games for this club last season and were a major factor in the club returning to the playoffs. In the playoffs he was moved up to first line center and even though he did not score generated chances that led to goals and was solid at both ends of the ice.
Sillinger is not going to impress anyone with speed or great scoring or defensive skills. He's simply knows how to make enough plays to win a game for a team at both ends of the ice and in the faceoff circle where he stands out.
Simply put the Islanders need more of the same from Mike Sillinger next season or this club will not be in playoff contention. He managed to stay healthy all of last season and will be thirty six this season.(Guerin is thirty seven) Like last year when games become critical expect Ted Nolan to give him more responcibility because of the lack of depth and experience at center.
Hunter and the Islanders went to arbitration this summer and they could not get together on a long-term contract. Hunter's intangibles hid a lot of streaky production in 06-07 playing with a knee brace most of the season that seemed to again limit his speed in the open ice. That said when Trent Hunter get's to the puck he made something positive happen. Like 03-04 when Hunter's scoring carried the club his hot streak that produced a twenty goal season again carried the club when it was needed most. Despite a scoring slumnp again down the stretch in scoring last year, Hunter was on Nolan's top line come playoff time with Sillinger-Ryan Smyth and responded with three goals in a losing effort.
Hunter game brings intangibles that include being one of the leaders in hits in the NHL, grit, defensive skills, special teams skill that is critical to a team concept along with an ability to block a shot. His power skating with the puck and release are good, but stopped using his slap-shot as he did in 03-04 and as he did in Bridgeport. Defensive plays like the one that took the puck in the final seconds from Sidney Crosby are part of the package.
On a team that lost the scoring it did Hunter must be more involved on the scoresheet as he was in 03-04. This may come down to his skating but the rest of his game is outstanding. Hunter is gambling on a big year and pending UFA and so will the Islanders not to let him leave. Again like many on this team the club needs a huge year from Hunter.
Next Up Part Four:
The remaining fowards. Richard Park, Chris Simon, Shawn Bates, Jeff Tambellini, Frans Nielsen.