June 20, 2012

Gillies gearing up for draft weekend

By Shawn Hutcheon

While most people are looking forward to vacation trips to places like Orlando, Las Vegas and Honolulu in June, a trip to Pittsburgh cannot come soon enough for a select few. 

Jon Gillies went 31-11-9 this season for the Indiana Ice. (Photo courtesy of Indiana Ice)

One of those anticipating the journey to western Pennsylvania is South Portland, Maine native Jon Gillies. The 18-year-old goaltender plans on spending his summer weekend sitting in the home of the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins, waiting to hear his name called by an NHL general manager and for a dream to come true.

"I've worked toward this all my life," Gillies said when asked about the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. "I'm very honored to be in this process. First pick or last pick, it doesn't matter. I'm so grateful to be in this position."

Gillies, who is ranked as the sixth-best netminder in North America by the NHL's Central Scouting Department, plied his trade with for the last two seasons with the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League. He led the country's top junior circuit in games played, wins, minutes played and shots against in 2011-12. The Ice rode Gillies' coattails into the USHL's Eastern Conference finals before bowing out to eventual finalist Green Bay.

Upon the completion of his season, the Maine native went to work in order to prepare for the NHL Combine held annually in Toronto.

"I was in the gym the day after the season ended. I need to devote more time to getting stronger," Gillies said. “At the combine, I only did four exercises because of a hip injury but I interviewed with 18 NHL teams. I thought they went great except for one, but I won't say who that was with just in case they draft me."

So what’s the interview process like?

"They all ask pretty much the same questions,” Gillies said. “They want you to describe yourself as a player and as a person. Each team looks for something different but they're all looking for players who are motivated and will do whatever it takes to get to the NHL."

Gillies is a modest young man, but with a little coaxing he described his goaltending style as a hybrid of many different NHLers.

"I watch all of the goalies and take tidbits from each,” he said. “If it woks for them, it might work for me."

His approach to the draft is one of excitement and anticipation.

"It's going to be so much fun," Gillies said. "I expect to be chosen Saturday. There will be some butterflies. My parents, Bruce and Debbie, along with my younger brother, Cameron, will be there. They gave up so much for me to be able to play. I'm really happy to see it all pay off for them."

After the NHL Entry Draft, Gillies' whirlwind summer will not slow down. He will attend the development camp of the club that drafts him. He has been invited to USA Hockey's national junior team evaluation camp in August at Lake Placid, N.Y. Then the 6-foot-5 teenager will report to Providence College for his freshman year.

"One reason I chose PC over major junior in Canada was because the average age for a goalie to break into the NHL is 23 or 24, and I'll be close to that age when my college career comes to an end," Gillies explained. "Another reason was the coaches at Providence. They're all proven winners. I'm happy with my choice."

The young man offered a piece of advice to young players dreaming of hearing their names called at future NHL Entry Drafts.

"Play with a smile on your face,” said Gillies. “You're playing a game. If you're not having fun, do something else. Hockey should always be fun. That's why I play. I have fun every time I step on the ice."

Because of his passion for the game, as well as the talent and work ethic that got him to where he is today, this week’s voyage to Pittsburgh promises to be the most memorable summer trip Gillies and the rest of his family have made yet.

Shawn Hutcheon can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.