Adin Hill reaps rewards of meticulous work ethic with strong NHL debut
Through his first two games of the 2017-18 season, goaltender Adin Hill allowed just one goal.
93 minutes. 31 shots against, and 30 saves.
It was a best-case scenario kind of start for the second-year pro, who was coming back to see just how much better he could get for yet another season. It was, after being described as ‘athletic and quick’ leading up to his draft year, a remarkable turnabout into a goaltender even the toughest critics could take seriously.
Since getting drafted in 2015, Hill had continued to get better. He was drafted with size – standing at 6-foot-4 by the time he was selected 76th overall by Arizona at the draft in Florida – and he was drafted with above-average reflexes. He even said so himself, just weeks after his name was called.
That first summer, though, he thought everything else could use work.
During his first post-draft conversation with InGoal, Adin Hill said he loved his reaction timing, while everything else needed improvement. Tracking, depth, second saves after rebounds… he wanted to get better at all of it.
He certainly has.
Fast forward to the fall of 2016, and Hill was in a completely new environment. Although he’d now been through two rookie camps with Arizona, this was his first year as a professional hockey player – and he was immediately tabbed as a tandem starter, splitting a tough three-way job with veteran Justin Peters and fellow prospect Marek Langhamer.
His tracking after the first save still needed some work, as he’d counter-rotate away from his own rebounds and leave his net vulnerable. He’d come out to challenge on shots and save his retreat for the last minute, or stay deep on his goal line and rely on lateral movement to get him to all the exposed areas.
He tracked well into his glove, though, making strides in an area he’d promised to work on with a relentless dedication to improving his game.
“Every shot,” he said in January. “I try to focus on tracking every shot, every day. You can’t let it slip in practice, and it becomes second nature in the game, a little bit more every time you work on it.”
“With tracking, with pushing back on the posts… every game I feel more comfortable.”
He worked on the simple plays, trying to cut down on his ‘highlight-reel’ stops when InGoal checked back in January.
By spring, he was focusing on playing the puck correctly, reading the plays and contributing when and where needed.
“Some days I feel great, other days I look back and think ‘well, maybe I could have done something a little different three or four times there’.
Making the simple play, even with the puck, I feel like that helps make the job a little easier for my defensemen… so I try to play the puck more during games, but I do try to make it easier for them.”
His rookie season was almost like working on an especially complicated puzzle. First tracking, then post integration, depth, puck-handling, and positioning; he focused on each area in depth, fitting it all together until his game was something Arizona fans could see as a welcome reprieve on the horizon.
The NHL Debut
All that work made his first few games with Tucson a breeze, but he got his first true test Tuesday night – making his first-ever NHL start behind a beleaguered Arizona roster, still in search of their first win on the year.
Hill didn’t manage to bring them that.
The final buzzer sounded with a 3-1 loss to the Dallas Stars prominently displayed on the scoreboard, two goals coming at Hill’s hands and one sliding in on an empty net in the final minutes.
Through 58 minutes, though, Hill faced 33 shots – and stopped 31, boasting a .939 save percentage in all situations for his first-ever NHL appearance at age 21.
That’s not bad at all.
Hill allowed his first goal just over five minutes into the game, coming off a rebound on his fourth shot faced with the Coyotes.
It was, for Hill, not an altogether surprising goal to allow. He managed to sprawl to the left post to deny Mattias Janmark a wraparound tally, but didn’t stay with the loose puck fast enough to prepare for a quick chip-in by Radek Faksa right over him.
Rather than pushing across the crease – slower, but leaving the goaltender with more control and options – Hill opted for the diving save, then lost his rebound for just long enough that he was in no position to make the stop. It was his weaknesses tugged out just enough by the NHL game to leave him – and Arizona – vulnerable.
Instead of debuting at the NHL level with habitual errors, though, the young starter tightened things up from there.
There was his stop on Alexander Radulov later in the game, which perfectly exhibited how much he’s improved that elusive ability to follow the puck after a first-save rebound.
There was also his incredible decision-making on the Jason Spezza breakaway, as well, which saw him measure his depth to perfection and then immediately follow the rebound to get into position.
It wasn’t a win by NHL standards, but it was about as good as it gets for a promising prospect’s very young debut.
In a perfect world, this is Adin Hill’s year to dominate the AHL.
He wrapped up his first season without a playoff appearance, so this could be the year he gets everything – and more. He’s improved enough, gained enough confidence, experienced enough, to earn AHL All-Star honors; he could even be an MVP if the season goes the way Tucson hopes.
That may not be in the cards, though.
Louis Domingue worked his way up from the bottom of Arizona’s depth chart, earning – not being given, but earning – the backup role behind Mike Smith with a strong NHL debut a few years back.
To his credit, this wouldn’t be his first slow start to a season; after struggling out of the gate, Domingue was rock-solid down the back stretch last year.
Arizona still sits without a win, though, and new starter Antti Raanta has been struggling with injuries.
If Domingue can’t get them the wins, perhaps Hill can.
It’s rare that a 21-year-old goaltender makes it to the NHL and sticks, so it’s optimistic – and perhaps even risky – to anticipate something along those lines this year.
Realistically, though, it could happen. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, given Arizona’s desire to start winning again.
If he heads up to the NHL, expect some growing pains. Expect work on those sliding saves as Hill learns to replace them with square, centered blocks. Expect some gaffes when playing the puck, then some games where he doesn’t come out of the net much at all. Expect to see save sequences that ‘work’, but you hope to never see again (because believe it, Hill doesn’t want to see them again either).
Arizona’s depth chart has long struggled, but Hill has been working – every shot, every practice – to fix that.