Jeff Jillson: A Future #1 D-man?

By pbadmin

In the 1999 draft, the Sharks made further inroads towards building their defensive unit, which was already one of the envies of the league. By drafting Jeff Jillson with the 14th pick of the draft, the Sharks added a third prospect, all of whom could possibly pass as #1 dmen someday in the NHL. The other two players being Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan.

Jillson was the second defenseman taken in the 1999 draft, in addition to being the first player chosen out of college. The general opinion on Jillson is that he was pretty high on a lot of lists, but the teams that were picking ahead of the Sharks simply had their own players in mind. The fact that the Islanders had so many picks in the top 10, and that Jillson simply did not fit into their plans, probably was a factor in him being chosen as late as he was. A perfect example of how a trade between two teams can effect a third, who’s not even involved in any way, quite drastically.

Playing for the University of Michigan, Jillson earned a spot on the World Junior squad for Team USA and was selected to the CCHA All-Rookie Team. Ever since, his stock has only risen. In the preliminary Central Scouting Bureau rankings, he was ranked 6th among all collegiate hockey players. By mid season, he was ranked 15th among North American skaters. By the time the CSB finished, he was ranked 11th. The Hockey News accurately ranked him to go 14th, but named him as a candidate to crack the top 10 picks.

In a way, Jillson playing in Michigan has been very good for him, in another way, it could end up being a costly decision not to have chosen the CHL route instead of going to college. There are of course pluses and minuses to both options. Going with the college route he has certainly has its advantages. One obvious advantage is that he’ll get himself an education at a well respected school. In regards to the more hockey related aspects, playing for Red Berenson, a coach who knows the NHL, and knows what it takes to win, will certainly aid his progress. He coached for 3 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, compiling a 100-72-32 record. He also played for 17 years with Montreal, a brief sting with the New York Rangers, Detroit, and two stays with St. Louis. Berenson has shown that he knows how to improve hockey teams, turning a dilapidated Michigan franchise around, in just the time it took him to get the players he wanted. Another advantage of the college route is that it gives a player more time to concentrate on improving his skills. The CHL’s rigorous schedule is so tough on many players, they don’t have time to improve their skills.

The negative side effect is that time does become a bit more of an issue… When a player is in the CHL, it’s a lot easier to say “ok, we’ll leave him here until he’s ready for the AHL or until he can come right to the NHL.” It’s not always so easy when you’re talking about a collegiate player. There are scenarios, where the college player has outgrown the college experience (which I believe is easier to do in college than it is in the CHL for several reasons), isn’t old enough to go to the AHL, and isn’t nearly ready for the NHL. Then the player is stuck toiling away in college for a year or even two, just waiting to go to the AHL. In Jillson’s case, I do not doubt that at least another year in college will do him a world of good… Fortunately for the Sharks, they receive a break here.

Another problem is that many will tell you that the experience you get of playing so many games in the CHL, makes it worth it for the player to go the CHL route instead of the college route. Also, in the CHL, you’ll tend to get the more intense level of play, more like the NHL than college is.

The decision to go college or CHL is an issue that sections of books has been dedicated to. I won’t even try to justify all the reasons in a few paragraphs, although I do have inspiration for another article. J

When the Sharks drafted Jillson, one of the first things I thought of, is that they drafted a right handed shot version of Scott Hannan. They’re both 6’3” and around 220 pounds, and both very solid, in incredible shape. Both are strong, and use their body well to execute their maneuvers. Neither is a great skater, but they are both average skaters. Where Jillson lacks a little bit is his mobility to the sides, where he’ll be at times slow to act on a crossing pass. He also needs to take a hit better, as he’s easily knocked off the puck. Although he has the ability to recover from being knocked off the puck in college, the speed of the NHL will cause him to fall victim to an odd man rush back the other way, where he won’t be able to recover.

One of the first things I noticed about Jillson is how fast he works. What I mean by this is not that he’s fast at skating the puck up ice. Not at all, as I described, his skating speed is probably a bit above average, but you wouldn’t say it’s great. What he’ll do though, is that if he has the puck, he gets it where he wants to get it very quickly. If he has the puck deep in his own zone near his net, he doesn’t wait to get it out of there, he reads where his teammates are, and gets it to the open man very quickly. He makes it very hard for an opponent to maintain a streak or control play for very long, since if he touches the puck, it usually immediately results in a change of possession.

Jillson has a very bright upside. He showed very impressive skills as a freshman this year. He stands a very good chance of being quite a force next year, in only his second year. If this does happen, people will have to look at Jillson as a possible gem at the 14th pick. If he does half of what he did to improve himself this off-season as he did last off-seson to improve himself, the Sharks will be very happy.

Another thing that makes Jillson attractive is he has an eagerness and willingness to learn and adapt. There are a lot of players who all want to do their own thing, thinking they always know what’s best for them. Sometimes, they’re wrong. He knows how to respond to his coaches directions, and then amend things as the situation arises and is warranted. This ability to think on his feet so quickly can obviously be incredibly beneficial in the NHL for obvious reasons. A bit problem players have is that they think too much on the ice. If he can adjust so quickly, dissecting the play, and knowing what he needs to do, without losing a step, he has a skill not many players have.

Many Sharks fans were frustrated to find out that the Sharks had drafted yet ANOTHER defenseman. However, when the Sharks traded Andrei Zyuzin, things become clearer. Plus, there’s that old expression “draft the best player available” and that’s exactly what they did. Jillson could very well turn out to be a #1 defenseman in the NHL… More likely, he’ll turn out to be a very serviceable 2nd dman or very good 3rd guy.