EL SEGUNDO, CA — Despite being hobbled by off-season ankle surgery, Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey is all fired up about his increased chances of making it to the National Hockey League next season, even though he is just nineteen years old.
Back in March, the 5-11, 182-pound native of Calgary, Alberta suffered what was thought to be a high ankle sprain. Hickey played through the pain, but the injury worsened.
After the season, Hickey was diagnosed with a torn ankle ligament and he had surgery to repair it, which included the insertion of pins to support the ankle.
When the Kings’ annual Development Camp came around, July 8-18, their first round pick (fourth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft was still in a walking cast and on crutches. Indeed, Hickey was unable to join the other Kings prospects on the ice, but the camp was anything but a waste of time for him.
“It’s tough being here, seeing your peers on the ice and not be able to do the same thing,” Hickey lamented. “But I’ve been able to do other things, including go out on the inline rink and work with [Kings Director of Pro Development] Mike O’Connell, which has been really good for me. And there’s still video sessions and I’m learning a lot from those.”
“I’m still getting a lot out of the camp, even though I’m not on the ice,” Hickey stressed. “[He is working on] a lot of the same stuff the guys are working on out there [on the ice]. Deception, passing…the little things that you really don’t understand until you break it down to the finer details like they do here.”
And much to the relief of many, Hickey stated emphatically that he will be back at one hundred percent, ready to go by the time training camp rolls around on September 20.
“[His recovery has] gone really well,” said Hickey. “I’m really close to skating so I’m really excited. I’m getting the pins out [on July 11] and then I’m pretty much in the home stretch. I’ll be fully ready [for training camp].”
His full recovery from the ankle surgery notwithstanding, chances are slightly better than average that Hickey’s dream of making it to the NHL just might come true sooner rather than later.
Indeed, with the Kings in a full-blown youth movement, with hardly any veteran experience on their blue line and with open spots in their defensive corps up for grabs at the present time, as one of the Kings’ top defenseman prospects, he could find himself in a Kings jersey on opening night to sink or swim.
To be sure, that is the goal Hickey will go into training camp focused on.
“You’ve got to come ready, expecting the make the team,” Hickey explained. “Last year, I was in awe. It was my first NHL camp. I’m looking at guys who I’ve watched play for years and years since I was younger. For me, the learning experience is to try and compete with those guys and earn my spot.”
The big difference this year is that the Kings’ young prospects will not have the hardened, experienced veterans to learn from unless they are added as free agents or in trades prior to the start of the 2008-09 season.
“I took a lot away from what I learned last year from a guy like [defenseman Rob Blake, who signed as an unrestricted free agent with the San Jose Sharks for the 2008-09 season], and without him here, there’s veterans on this team, even though they may not be as old or as experienced,” said Hickey. “But they definitely bring that knowledge, so I can go to them for advice and, at the same time, I’ll use what I learned and compete with those guys, too.”
And just like his good friend, fellow Kings defenseman prospect Drew Doughty, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (second overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft back in June, Hickey is looking forward to training camp with great anticipation.
“It’s encouraging to know that you’ve got a shot as a 19-year-old, he explained. “Most guys don’t get that opportunity. It doesn’t matter how good they are. Sometimes teams have a lot of depth.”
“Right now, they’re rebuilding and going with some youth, so it’s encouraging for me to come out and give my best and hopefully get a spot,” he elaborated.
Hickey’s lack of size, the fact that he is coming off a serious ankle injury and the fact that he is just nineteen years old—all that usually adds up to a defenseman prospect who is not yet ready for the rigors of the NHL. But in the current state of the Kings, they may have no choice other than to put him in a Kings jersey to sink or swim.
Further, with the Kings going young and being expected to compete more for last place in the league standings once again as opposed to a playoff berth, the outlook for next season is anything but bright. Nevertheless, Hickey is clearly keeping his thoughts on a positive track.
“I don’t really pay attention to that, said Hickey. “I’ve watched hockey long enough where you think a team’s not going to be good and they come out and have a good season. Maybe they finish middle of the pack, maybe they do a lot better than that.”
“Expectations can turn out to be how the team plays, but I wouldn’t look into that…what…we’re in July right now? The season starts in October and there’s months to go from there so I don’t think you can look at that too much.”
For his own sake and assuming he makes the Kings lineup to stay next season, one can only hope that when the reality of the Kings’ troubles finally hits Hickey that it doesn’t feel like the proverbial ton of bricks, especially given the Kings’ history of injury woes.
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