This is Christian Hilbrich. He’s six-foot-seven, 223 lbs., and you can’t teach that.
He towered over opponents in college, and he sticks out as the biggest, thickest body at Pittsburgh Penguins Development Camp. As of right now, he’s the tallest player on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s roster, and it’s not even close.
It doesn’t take much to notice Hilbrich on the ice, and he’s well aware of what kind of attention his dimensions bring.
“Being the tallest guy on the ice, all the eyes go right to you,” Hilbrich said. “When a tall guy does something good, he’s the first guy to get noticed. When he does something bad, he’s the first to get noticed.”
The Penguins’ eyes certainly noticed Hilbrich’s size, but team brass liked his game enough to sign him to an American Hockey League contract on Tuesday. Hilbrich’s style derives from his size, something he tries to use to his advantage.
Penguins brass raves about his skating ability. That’s not something you always hear about long-bodied players, but Hilbrich insists he uses his length to add to his stride.
He says his wingspan allows him to protect the puck as well as he can reach to knock it away from attackers.
Any possible benefit that can be gained from his massive frame, Hilbrich wants to use it.
“There’s always an interest in big players for that reason,” he said. “There’s always a need to be rougher and tougher, but it’s about more than that, too. And if you’re willing to do that, fill out your game to go with being tall, you can play at the next level.”
Hilbrich developed the finer points of his game at a big-guy factory, Cornell University. The Big Red has garnered the attention of the Penguins a lot recently, having drafted Cornell commits Nick D’Agostino and Anthony Angello as well as signing graduates John McCarron and now Hilbrich. The Pittsburgh-Cornell connection is not one that surprises the first-year-pro-to-be.
“[Cornell] is the biggest team in the country every year,” Hilbrich said. “It’s a team of power forwards. There’s usually not a lot of variance on the roster. It’s a lot of big, puck-protection forwards. We play a certain style and a unique style, that when different organizations who are more skill oriented or a more fast-paced transition-style team see us, they see Cornell players are unique players, because not many college teams play that way. I think that’s a big advantage for Cornell players.”
While Hilbrich and the rest of the Big Red seem to have figured out the benefits of building a program around size and strength, one still has to wonder why someone so tall ended up on skates instead in other athletic endeavors. But for Hilbrich, a Toronto, Ont. native, there was no path to take other than one on ice.
“It always hockey for me. It was the biggest sport around. I’m sure if I grew up in Indiana, I’d be playing basketball or anywhere in the south, I’d probably… it would still be basketball!”
He’s not wearing Air Jordan’s to the court, he’s bringing his boots with blades to the rink, and he’ll be bringing them to Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza soon.