EL SEGUNDO, CA — Last summer, Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Thomas Hickey was in Southern California for the team’s annual development camp for their young prospects. But for him, the camp was filled with off-ice training and exercises and a lot of watching from the bench.
Indeed, Hickey ended up spending last year’s development camp off the ice and on crutches due to off-season surgery to repair a torn ankle ligament. But one year later, he was on the ice at the Kings’ 2009 development camp and was a standout among the defensemen.
“It’s a big relief,” said Hickey, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (fourth overall) of the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft. “It was tough sitting on the sidelines last year. I still learned a lot because there’s a lot of stuff that goes on off the ice but this year [I’m] getting so much more out of it.”
“Being able to compete is the [most fun] because everyone’s been practicing all summer,” added Hickey. “I haven’t played since the season so I’m really enjoying myself.”
2008-09 was quite the whirlwind season for Hickey, who completed his final season as captain of the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. He was also the captain of the gold-medal winning Canadian team at the IIHF World Junior (under-20) Championships and he played a short stint with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) at the end of the season.
“Ever since training camp ended and I went back to junior, we were in the swing of things there and before you know it, Christmas comes and [playing for Team Canada was] the thrill of a lifetime,” Hickey explained. “I got to do it the year before, but it takes on a whole new meaning when it’s in your own country, and you take on a bigger [leadership] role.”
“I was fortunate to be a part of that and we won it,” Hickey elaborated. “It seemed like everything was going too well. I just tried to carry everything over to my season in Seattle and then I ended up in Manchester.”
Joining the Monarchs opened Hickey’s eyes to what it means to move up to higher levels. But he did not feel out of place moving from junior hockey to the AHL level.
“I never thought hockey could be so different from one level to the next,” he explained. “It’s much more structured. But for the type of player that I am it compliments my game. I don’t have to run around or do too much. If you play strong positionally, you’re going to get your chances. I think my game translates well to the pro level.”
All that experience last season further refined Hickey’s game.
“I think there’s a lot of things that can improve in your game when you just get a year of seasoning,” he noted. “I went back and learned a lot about being a captain. I was captain the year before [with the Thunderbirds], but you take things in stride and learn a lot more. I think I’m much better for that—having a few years of that under my belt.”
“Being a player, every part of my game is better,” he added. “I’ve been dedicated to making my shot better and I think that shows. I’m stronger on my skates, I stay on my feet more often. I think my compete level has always been there but I’m able to do more with the skills that I have.”
The Kings kept an eye on Hickey throughout the year, pushing him to get better.
“I’m sure they saw me play a lot,” said Hickey. “I talked to them once a month. [They told me to] just stick with it. Nothing specific. Stick with it, work hard and eventually, things are going to pay off.”
One look at Hickey at this year’s development camp shows that he has put some additional muscle on his frame.
“It was unfortunate last year, I wasn’t able to do as much in the weight room as I wanted to [due to the ankle injury],” he said. “This year, I feel great. I’ve leaned out a lot and put on some muscle. I’ve been working out here and back in Calgary.”
Hickey will enter his first full season at the professional level in 2009-10, very likely with the Monarchs, and he is looking forward to the challenge.
“The pro level is going to be a lot of fun,” said Hickey. “I got a little taste of it and hopefully, I’ll come into camp, make things happen and keep playing the pro life. The Kings have got a great set up in both places so whereever I end up it’s going to be fun.”
Hickey’s defensive partner for Team Canada last season was big, rugged defenseman Colten Teubert, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (13th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft who is also participating in the Kings development camp.
After a solid third full season with the Regina Pats of the WHL, Teubert joined the Ontario Reign of the ECHL (Kings’ ECHL affiliate) for a handful of games at the end of their season, gaining some valuable experience, including a round of playoff hockey.
“It just made me realize how tough it’s going to be to take the next step,” said Teubert. “The ECHL is third in line to the NHL—give it credit, it’s a great league and I had tons of fun while I was down there.”
“Getting to play with the older guys, guys who were 28 and had a family—it was really nice to experience that with different age players.”
Playing in a large metropolitan area was also quite the difference from Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, even though Regina is the second largest city in the province.
“[Playing in Ontario, California] was awesome,” said Teubert. “I’m not bashing Regina, but it’s not the hottest place in the world. You come down to California and [the city of] Ontario is beautiful, there’s a brand-new arena. The fans are great. It didn’t fill up every night but if we had 3,000 fans they were still super-loud which was awesome.”
“It was a great experience,” added Teubert. “I got to live in my own apartment, which was nice. I got to experience that instead of [living in] billets like in junior hockey. Overall, I really enjoyed my time there.”
During last year’s development camp and the Kings’ 2008-09 training camp, Teubert tried to make an impression by running all over the ice, trying to lay a big hit on anything and everything that moved.
While he might be able to get away with the in the WHL, that kind of play will not work at higher levels. Nevertheless, Teubert appears to be learning that lesson.
“I think I’m just more composed, patient and just know what to do,” he said. “[Last summer], I was young and really nervous—gripping the stick a little tight. Now it’s a little more comfortable. I can kinda help the young guys out because I’ve been there an extra year. It’s exciting.”
“[I] just try to stay in position more,” he elaborated. “I could hit everybody if I wanted to but it takes me out of position. It puts me in a situation I don’t want to be in. I’ve been working with [Mike O’Connell, who handles Pro Development and Special Assignments for the Kings] on being on the defensive side of the puck and just working from there.”
“It’s not always about the big hits,” Teubert noted. “It’s about playing defense. [I need to be] more confident with the puck and [make] safe plays. I want to be that guy who doesn’t make a mistake on the ice and hopefully, you guys [in the media] don’t notice me unless it’s for a big hit or a fight or whatever. That’s about it. Just get my shots through and be simple.”
Teubert is already looking forward to pairing up with some of his potential teammates.
“[Hickey is] that offensive threat and I can be his defensive safety valve. Me playing with anybody on the Kings could be the same way. If you put me in with Matt Greene, we could be a defensive shutdown crew. If you put me with [Drew] Doughty, same thing as with Hickey. It’s just exciting to have a variety of different defensemen in the Kings organization.”
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