It's been awhile since a Bruins defenseman has made opposing
goaltenders shake in their crease. In fact, no Boston blueliner
has cracked the 40-point barrier since Raymond Bourque had 57 in
1998-99. With last year's top-scoring defender Bryan Berard (38
points) lost to free agency and Jonathan Girard (22, third best)
sidelined for the season with a broken pelvis and two neck
fractures, Boston figured to get little offense from its defense.
Enter 23-year-old Jeff Jillson, whose size (6'3", 220 pounds) and
booming shot have added punch to the Boston blue line. A Rhode
Island native who grew up idolizing Bourque, Jillson was tied for
the NHL lead in goals by a defensemen (three) through Sunday and
was a mainstay on the power play. "He sees the ice very well and
makes the first pass as good as most defensemen in the league,"
says rookie coach Mike Sullivan, whose team was off to a 5-2-2-0
start. "The question was, What was the right time for him to make
the jump [to the NHL]?"
After a stutter start to his pro career, Jillson appears to be in
the league to stay. A first-round draft pick by the Sharks in
1999, he played a total of 74 NHL games in two seasons, bouncing
between San Jose and its minor league affiliate in Cleveland.
Jillson began last season with the Sharks, but he was demoted for
failing to score a goal in his first 26 games and making costly
errors. The Bruins acquired him last January for defenseman Kyle
Following the trade, Jillson spent the balance of last season
with Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence, learning the
organization's defensive system and rebuilding his confidence.
"He was fragile," says Sullivan, who coached Jillson in
Providence. "Playing in the NHL, then getting sent down for a
length of time has an effect on players."
Jillson reported to training camp in better shape than last
season and won a roster spot. On opening night he scored twice in
a 3-3 tie against Martin Brodeur and the Devils. His third goal
was the game-winner in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche last
week. "We think he can develop into one of the [league's] top
defensemen," says G.M. Mike O'Connell. "It's a matter of time,
and we're giving him that time."