When will Jack Hillen return to Capitals?
Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen says he’s “super close” to returning to the lineup after missing nearly five months with a broken right leg, but he does not consider himself an option for Thursday night’s game against the Florida Panthers.
Capitals coach Adam Oates isn’t so sure.
“I’m really close,” Hillen said Wednesday after playing 20 minutes in the Hershey Bears’ 6-5 loss to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. “I’m trying not to beat myself up over it because I feel like I’m so close, but I’m not in a position yet where I can do the things I need to be the best hockey player I can be and I don’t want to hurt myself or the team.
“Hopefully, things will keep progressing the way they are and I’ll be back soon. I want to be out there, but I’ve got to be honest with everybody involved. That’s being professional and doing the right thing.”
With all of that said, Oates said he thought Hillen looked fine in his drills at Wednesday’s practice, especially since Hillen took a car service from Scranton, Pa., to Washington and did not get a full night’s sleep.
Hillen, who has not played for the Capitals since breaking his leg just below the knee cap, on Oct. 3, is making the team’s trip to Sunrise, Fla.
“We’ll see how he feels in the morning,” Oates said. “He’s got to be ready to play. If he can play, he’ll play.
“Obviously, we’ve got to listen to the player, but [Thursday] morning he may wake up and say, ‘Wow, I feel better than I thought I would.’”
Hillen has been through this before. Last season he missed 25 games with fractured ribs and said he was ready to return to the lineup on March 16 and played well down the stretch. In 2009-10, Hillen suffered a broken jaw on an Alex Ovechkin slap shot, said he returned to the Islanders too early, and played “terrible.”
Hillen said that by playing for the Bears Tuesday night he learned he’s still “a good player,” but after logging five shots in 20 minutes he said he lacked the explosiveness he’d like for the NHL and that’s why he plans on waiting a few days before his return.
“If I really thought he was hurting he wouldn’t have practiced today,” Oates said. “I think he feels better than he thinks he does, but mentally he’s got to be prepared to play.”
If Hillen, who shoots left, returns to the lineup on Thursday, look for him to be paired with rookie Connor Carrick. If not, look for veteran John Erskine to take his place on the Caps’ third defense unit.