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Hilbert in Houston to get back to NHL

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com

Forward Andy Hilbert‘s decision to return to the AHL came down to a family referendum.

Andy was OK with it, even though he hadn’t been an AHL regular since 2004-05.

Wife Andrea voted yes, too. Even yellow lab Stanley had his opinion taken into account, but since he wags his tail at nearly everything, it was hard to tell whether he had a grasp of the issue.

But, hey, unanimous is unanimous. Two games into the AHL season, it looks like a sound choice and one that could have Hilbert skating back in the NHL soon.

Hilbert, 28, rang up a goal and two assists in his first two contests with the Houston Aeros. That’s the rate he ripped ’em off at five years ago, when he went 37-42-79 with Providence.

"The comfort level is really not there," he said. "It’s going to take some adjusting — a new team, a new system. It’s a weird feeling playing in the AHL versus the NHL. But in the end, hockey is hockey. I expect a lot out of myself."

And why shouldn’t he? Hilbert produced 11 goals and 16 assists in 67 games with the Islanders last season, an effort he thought might be worth a little something this season. And a little something was all he got. Minnesota gave him a tryout offer to come to camp, and then signed him to a two-way contract for the season last week.

"It was a difficult situation for me, something that was uncomfortable," said Hilbert, who has played in 303 NHL contests. "I expected more options, but that wasn’t the case. You aren’t a 20-year-old kid coming out of college any more. You have a responsibility to take care of your family."

That’s where taking a less-than-hoped-for offer to stay settled in North America came in. If age isn’t on his side, Hilbert at least thinks he has more going for him now than during his first swing through the AHL.

"I’m more of an all-round player," he said. "I’m more responsible in every situation. That’s how my game has changed. I’ve worked too hard and too long for this. If this (going to the AHL) is what it takes to get back to the NHL, that’s what it takes. I always believed it will work out. I still do."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com. Read today’s complete column here.