He knew he wanted to impress the staff in his first opportunity to get on the ice since signing an entry-level contract with Boston back in March. He knew that perhaps he had a lot to prove, given that a January shoulder surgery limited his opportunities to impress his new team with his on-ice skills.
He knew there were plenty of people to meet — new teammates, trainers and coaches alike — and that he wanted to make a good impression on them.
But first and foremost, Hickman wanted to prove to his new team that he is willing and able to work as hard as possible — the cornerstone trait of becoming a pro — and after a week spent in Boston, he was confident that he had done just that.
“I think the whole week is just learning what it takes to be a pro,” Hickman told BostonBruins.com at the conclusion of development camp. “You see the effort that [Strength & Conditioning Coach John Whitesides] expects from you, and what they expect from their NHL guys — they work hard, and it’s no different.
“Every level you go up, you’ve got to work that much harder to stay there, and there’s no exceptions, whether you’re a guy has played in the league for 10 years or a 17, 18-year-old guy who just got drafted, or just a camp invite. They expect the utmost effort from everybody, and that’s a good way to have it.”
While Hickman was able to participate in the first three on-ice sessions of camp, he could not take part in the scrimmage on the final day. During that scrimmage, a handful of players seized the opportunity to showcase their strengths. Hickman didn’t have that same chance, but he knows he will have more time to impress down the road — at rookie camp, at training camp and perhaps in Providence in the fall.
Whatever his timetable is, though, he knows the Bruins will support him. They have all along.
“I had surgery done in early January, so they’ve been really helpful with all of that,” he said. “Getting back into it, it’s exciting coming for the week and meeting all the staff. I dealt a little bit with the management, obviously, for the signing, but meeting all the staff, and the guys in Providence, and obviously the players around coming through the system, too — it’s good.”
Particularly in the case of players like Hickman — one of a few undrafted prospects who signed his entry-level deal with the B’s within the few months leading up to development camp — a week like this can prove invaluable. It is an opportunity to meet coaches and staff months ahead of training camp, an opportunity to identify their most pressing areas of improvement in the critical summer months that are often dedicated to conditioning.
Players like Hickman can get a better feel for the Bruins’ system so when training camp opens, they are familiar with it instead of just beginning to learn the ropes.
“I think [camp] just makes them more comfortable — kind of trying to figure out what we expect,” said Development Coach Jay Pandolfo. “They get a chance to talk to us a little bit, ask questions, and that’s what they’ve done. If you’re just kind of going into a pro camp in September and have never been there, it’s difficult. You kind of don’t know what to expect, you’re a little nervous.
“I think this camp alone gets some of the nerves out. You’re comfortable with the guys, you’re comfortable with what we expect. I think that’s the biggest thing for those guys that are going to be here in training camp.”
Hickman spent the last five seasons with the WHL’s Seattle Thunderbirds, though his 2014-15 season was limited to just 31 games due to injury. In those 31 games, though, he made his presence known, tallying 28 points and 40 penalty minutes.
Hickman doesn’t shy away from the fact that a strong physical presence is a significant component of his game. He is tough, and he is not afraid to be tough. He relishes physicality, and he relishes the fact that he is now signed to a team that values that type of presence.
Objectively, Hickman’s style seems to fit right into the Bruins identity, and that is not a coincidence. It is part of the reason why Hickman was eager to sign with Boston.
“That’s just part of my game,” Hickman said. “Obviously, I try and chip in offensively as much as I can — it was a good year, numbers-wise, for me — but I think the penalty minutes are always there. It’s just kind of the way I play. I’ll always be, I guess, spending a little bit of time in the penalty box.
“Obviously, [it’s] very exciting that [the Bruins] have a type of game style that they want people to play, and the fans expect — a tough, rugged style, and that fits right into my style. So [I’ll] just keep working hard, and hopefully I’ll be out there soon.”
Those five years spent in the OHL were critical to Hickman’s development. When he entered his first season with the Thunderbirds in 2010, he was a 16-year-old kid. Now, as he leaves, he is a 21-year-old adult ready to dedicate his professional life to hockey.
“[There’s] definitely a lot of development in those years,” he said. “You go from being a 16-year-old, Grade 11 kid going into a new city, new school — the big learning curves of that — to five years later, being a 20-year-old in the league, kind of knowing the ropes of that league. But again, every step of the way, there’s new guys coming in, and you’ve always got to be working hard.”
As expected, Hickman developed into a threat on the ice, doubling his point total in the span of two years from 2012 to 2014. But off the ice, he said, is where some of his most critical development took place. That is where he learned to be a leader, and he was rewarded for it when he was named captain of the Thunderbirds in 2014.
“What I expect is just leading by example, on and off the ice,” he said. “A lot of things go into that — not just working hard, but being on time, being accountable for your actions, making sure you’re trying to make the other guys around you better, not just worrying about yourself.”
Now, as he enters his first professional season, he has the maturity — on the ice and off — required to succeed.
And with his first development camp under his belt, there is nothing that stands in between him and his first training camp. All he can do is take everything he learned in the course of six days with the Bruins organization, absorb and internalize it, and leave it all on the ice in September.
“Some of the guys who signed [this year] weren’t part of this organization before, so [camp] is kind of a chance for those guys to get to know the organization and what they’re going to expect in rookie camp and training camp, because they haven’t been a part of it before,” said B’s General Manager Don Sweeney. “So I think for them, it’s just to feel comfortable — and most of them are older, they’ve been around, they’re mature.
“[They’re] just trying to get to know the organization, get to know the coaches, get to know the staff, for them to be comfortable when they come here [for training camp], and they’re ready.”