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Hickey Hoping to Join Kings

by Staff Writer / Los Angeles Kings
Kings defensive prospect Thomas Hickey hoisting the trophy at the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottowa.
A quick search of the 2009 World Junior Hockey Tournament on any computer immediately reveals an image now frozen on the Internet - and certainly in the minds of many Canadian hockey fans.

The image is that of Thomas Hickey hoisting the championship trophy while letting out a primal scream with a smile as wide as Canada itself. He and his teammates were celebrating Canada's 5-1 win over Sweden in the gold medal game before an adoring sellout crowd at Ottawa's Scotiabank Place.

And if there aren't enough copies of the snapshot moment floating around in cyberspace, there's one on prominent and permanent display on a wall inside a certain Calgary home. It's a source of continuing pride -- and a little embarrassment.

"I got home and my parents had it framed up and stuff," Hickey said. "I've seen it a lot of times. Some old buddies have given me a hard time about it because I usually don't show that much emotion.

"It was a pretty cool experience."

It's been quite a year for Hickey, the fourth pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and one of the Los Angeles Kings' brightest prospects. The 20-year-old captained Canada to its fifth consecutive world junior title a few weeks before finishing a final Western Hockey League season that was his best yet.

Hickey was in Southern California recently for the Kings' development camp hoping to make another strong impression in front of several of the club's top decision makers. Kings coach Terry Murray ran the camp while GM Dean Lombardi watched intently from the glass behind the bench.

A year ago, Hickey came to training camp somewhat behind the eight-ball as he battled back from an ankle injury that required surgery and left him on crutches for several weeks.

What do the Kings see now in their young defenseman?

"There's a high skill level," Murray said after the first intrasquad scrimmage. "Very intelligent player. He sees the ice and really moves the puck well.

"He's gotten bigger physically. He's stronger. He shows much more confidence, much more authority to manage the game. Just in this one scrimmage, it comes out right away. He's much more mature in understanding the game."

"Mature" is a word that often comes up in describing Hickey, and it seems apropos. The answers to varying questions about his recent past and bright future seem to come from someone several years older.

There's a common thread when discussing Hickey. Prior to Team Canada coach Pat Quinn deciding that Hickey should be the captain of the national junior team, the defenseman wore the "C" for his WHL team, the Seattle Thunderbirds.

"First and foremost, we made him captain at 18," said Rob Sumner, the T-Birds' longtime coach. "That's not often that it happens. It's very early in the WHL. Generally, a 19- or 20-year will be made captain. But he's not your average guy. Realistically, he probably could have worn it and been in our captain circle as a 17-year-old."

When asked to elaborate on what makes Hickey captain material, Sumner thought for a moment and said, "It's not forced. It's natural. Because it's natural, everyone is at ease with him. He includes everyone and he brings it himself first."

Offensively, Hickey is coming off his best season. The smooth-skating defenseman scored a career-high 16 goals and finished with a personal-best 51 points in just 57 games, topping the 50 points he put up as an 18-year-old in 2006-07.

Sumner looks at Hickey and sees someone who can rush the puck like Chicago All-Star Brian Campbell, has the instincts to see how a play develops ahead of time like Scott Niedermayer and can make the right subtle play with composure and grace under pressure like Nicklas Lidstrom.

That's not to say the 5-foot-11, 182-pound Hickey is right there among those top-flight NHL puck-movers, nor is it certain he ever will be. But he was that kind of player in the WHL.

"Thomas is respected around the league from other players and other coaches," Sumner said. "The majority of their game plan was how to limit Thomas Hickey. And when you look at that and his rate of success of how many minutes he plays … nobody gets keyed on more than him. And yet you still can't get to him."

Hickey is a key part of the Kings' continuing effort to improve their defense -- something that's been a key focus of Lombardi's drafting philosophy and Murray's commitment to solid play in the defensive zone.

Mentored by hard-nosed veteran Sean O'Donnell, Drew Doughty, the No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft, had an outstanding rookie season. Matt Greene is signed long-term and Peter Harrold provides versatility. Former No. 3 overall pick Jack Johnson, now 22, showed plenty of promise after an early-season injury. There's also fellow WHL product Colten Teubert, another 2008 first-round pick who was Hickey's defense partner for Team Canada.

Thomas Hickey was the fourth pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings.
The signing of free agent Rob Scuderi, a key part of the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup championship team, allowed Lombardi to send Kyle Quincey to Colorado to bring in gritty winger Ryan Smyth. The abundance of talent on the blue line may mean that Hickey will start his pro career with the Kings' AHL affiliate in Manchester, N.H.

Not that Hickey is settling for a trip to the minors.

"You ask any young player, I think that's the last thing they want to do," he said. "You want to play in the NHL right away. I think the pro game suits my style really well and I adjusted really well.

"Coming into camp is a benefit for me. I think I can jump in and play here."

Instead of looking at the Kings' signing of Scuderi as a roadblock, Hickey focused on the bigger picture.

"When I see a signing like that, it's a good thing for the team," Hickey said. "For me, the way I look at it as if you're ready, they're probably going to make room for you and if you're not, they're going to send you down.

"Looking at the numbers, they've got a bunch of guys in here that are totally capable. It's up to you to try to come in and make your own name because you've got to have respect for the guys that are there."

Author: Eric Stephens | Correspondent

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