Roadrunners’ Adin Hill is playing the part of Coyotes’ goalie of the future
In a span of about 10 weeks, the Arizona Coyotes locked up their goaltending tandem for at least the next two seasons, signing backup Darcy Kuemper to a two-year extension in February and starter Antti Raanta to a four-year extension in April.
The contract terms made sense for the team, but the timeline also made sense.
With Kuemper only under contract for two years, there is room for the Coyotes’ goalie of the future to make his mark at the NHL level soon. At the moment, that goalie is 2015 third-round pick Adin Hill, the starter for the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Tucson Roadrunners.
Hill is doing everything in his power to maintain his place at the head of a growing line that also includes Hunter Miska, Merrick Madsen and Marek Langhamer, among others.
Entering a Western Conference semifinal series with the Texas Stars (Game 1 is Wednesday at Tucson Arena), Hill is third in the AHL playoffs with a 1.96 goals against average among goalies who have played at least two games. He is fourth in save percentage at .939 and he leads the league with two shutouts.
Hill was a big reason the Roadrunners emerged with a split of their first two games against the San Jose Barracuda in the first round at SAP Center – a best-of-five series they won in four games.
“Adin stole Game 1 for us,” Roadrunners general manager Steve Sullivan said. “We did not deserve to leave San Jose with any wins whatsoever, and he definitely was the difference-maker in that first game, and that was huge. Without that effort we would have been down 0-2, and who knows what would have happened after that.”
Hill finished the regular season fifth in the AHL in goals against average (2.28), but in a small playoff sample size, he has stepped up his game in the playoffs, raising his save percentage from the .914 he posted in the regular season. Coyotes prospects goalie coach Jon Elkin termed this performance the fruits of Hill’s labor.
“Just being a pro and knowing what you need to do to play at your best on a consistent basis, that was the main thing I wanted to accomplish with Adin this season,” Elkin said. “He had a solid season last year in his first season of pro, but moving from juniors, it’s a whole different ballgame.
“I think you get away with a lot of stuff at a lower level and still have success so you fool yourself into thinking preparation only has to go so far. Then when guys get weeded out and you’re dealing with the cream of the cream here, there’s another level you have to reach. Sometimes it’s a shock and you don’t realize that your past habits are just not good enough. That’s part of the adjustment of becoming a pro.”
Elkin said Hill has done a terrific job taking care of his body, but Hill cited a laundry list of technical aspects he’d like to improve this summer when he works with his goalie coach in Calgary, Justin Cardinal, or with Elkin at his goalie school in Toronto.
“Foot speed, keeping control, being in position,” Hill said. “I want to work on my post movement a little bit more, pushing to the post, making sure I’m staying inside and not getting out of the crease too much unless I have to in desperation. Also, work on battling through screens and tips. And then of course rebound control. That’s huge at the higher level.”
Elkin said Hill has made progress in all those areas.
“He has a real nice presence in the net and he’s a big guy who can battle, make unorthodox saves and that’s a big asset,” Elkin said. “What he needs to learn is to move with control, move and still make second and third saves with some poise rather than always turning it into a battle.”
Elkin doesn’t like to set timelines for goalies reaching the NHL, but he does acknowledge that their development takes longer than other positions. Hill will turn 22 on May 11. Elkin sees no reason why he won’t be ready for the NHL by age 25, if not sooner.
“I think to expect a guy to be NHL-ready prior is a tough thing,” Elkin said. “I’m not saying they can’t. Some guys are ready and perhaps Adin will be, but I do feel he’ll be ready by 25. He’s gained a lot of experience already and he got a taste of the NHL in the [four] games he played at that level.
“Understanding what it’s all about and the level you have to be at is huge, but he knows now that when he is on point, he can play at that level.”
Hill understands the contract situations of Raanta and Kuemper. He knows his path likely runs through the AHL for at least another season, but that isn’t stopping him from pushing for a faster timeline.
“After this season, I feel like I can definitely play at the NHL level,” he said. “I want to win a championship here and then go into the summer to work hard and try to earn a spot. They have two guys on one-way [contracts] but you can always earn a spot. Things can change. My ultimate goal is obviously to be an NHL starter one day so I’m going to work as hard as I can and just be patient.”
AHL Western Conference semifinal schedule
Wednesday: Texas at Tucson, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Texas at Tucson, 7:05 p.m.
Monday: Tucson at Texas, 5 p.m.
May 9: Tucson at Texas, 5 p.m.
*May 11: Tucson at Texas, 5 p.m.
*May 13: Texas at Tucson, 7:05 p.m.
*May 14: Texas at Tucson, 7:05 p.m.
* — if necessary