Players like the Seattle Thunderbirds’ Thomas Hickey
help the Western Hockey League live up to its slogan of “Building the World’s Finest Talent.” Hickey, the Kings top pick (4th overall) in this summer’s NHL draft, is finally back in North America after spending more than three weeks in the Czech Republic helping Canada capture its fourth consecutive World Junior Championship.
Hickey not only helped Canada nab the gold, but he also built up his already reputable name. Prior to this tournament, Hickey was thought of primarily as a mobile and offensive-minded defenseman that can effectively quarterback a power play and put pucks on the net. However, Coach Craig Hartsburg and Team Canada put Hickey in a new role for the tournament: shutdown defenseman.
“I think mainly in this tournament, I proved to myself that I can play a different style,” Hickey said. “I was looked at as more of a shutdown player in that tournament and I was paired with a great player in Luke Schenn. I showed myself and hopefully others that I can be good defensively – and not just offensively.”
The impressive thing about Hickey’s gold medal-winning tournament performance is that he was able to still maintain production offensively. Hickey saw regular power-play time and picked up an assist (in Canada’s 4-1 victory over Denmark on Dec. 31) in seven games. An assist, while maybe not the 50 points that Hickey put up in 68 games last season in Seattle, was still a nice accomplishment.
“Every time you went out on the ice you either had to make a play [and score] or make sure they didn’t make one on you,” Hickey said.
He clearly accomplished this task against some of the best players in the world by notching a +4 plus/minus rating during the tournament. Hickey’s strong play at both ends of the ice made him into a more complete player - though the humble 18 year old still sees much room for improvement in his game.
“Everything is a step up in the NHL. I need to work on my skills – passing the puck harder, especially since the play is faster. I know that I need to bulk up and get bigger, it was definitely something that I think stood out to me [as a weakness] when playing with those guys,” Hickey said.
Hickey got a taste of life in the big leagues this summer when he attended the Kings summer prospect camp and regular NHL training camp. For Hickey, it was the perfect way to start his relationship with the Kings.
“It was awesome seeing the NHL first hand,” Hickey commented. “It was really neat. As a kid who hadn’t experienced anything like that before, it was pretty cool to see it up close and meet some of the guys.”
For now, Hickey is just thrilled to have won the World Junior Championships – a big holiday tradition amongst Canadian hockey enthusiasts.
“It was amazing – especially the way we won in overtime. It really added to the feeling. With that group of guys it was amazing, I talked to a bunch of them after trying to figure out what it all meant and we just all couldn’t even put it into words,” Hickey said.
Hickey heads back to Seattle with a wealth of new experience. They say the biggest adjustment a junior player needs to make when becoming a pro is to learn with precision both ends of the ice. Hickey hopes to take this newly minted skill set and translate the success he had in the Czech Republic to Seattle. From there, the sky is the limit.