|Thomas Hickey, the Los Angeles Kings 2007 first-round Draft pick, will have to battle stiff competition in training camp to earn a spot on a young and talented blue line.
So much was made about the Los Angeles Kings
' selection of Drew Doughty
with the No. 2 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft and the choice of Colten Teubert
with the No. 13 pick that it's easy to forget the Kings also drafted a defenseman with the fourth pick last year.
In fact, the Kings stunned a lot of people by taking Thomas Hickey
that high. The 5-foot-11, 182-pounder from Seattle of the Western Hockey League was projected to go no higher than the middle of the first round, and possibly not until the second round. Being picked No. 4 was something of a shock to Hickey as well.
"I was really surprised at the time," he told NHL.com. "It was something I didn't really expect, since I didn't talk to the Kings a whole lot. I didn't know that they were very interested in me, so I was really surprised when it happened."
Though the Kings sent Hickey back to juniors for another season, he said getting picked so high gave him a shot of confidence.
"Heading back to Seattle, I think I had a lot of things to prove this past season because I was picked so high and people are going to expect a lot out of you," he said. "It was a confidence boost, but at the same time, it was a challenge for me to go out there -- there are always going to be critics, and you can't make everyone happy. I was happy with how I dealt with it and the progress I made throughout this season."
Hickey had another solid season with Seattle, scoring 11 goals and adding 34 assists in 63 games. He had a goal and 10 points in nine playoff games before being forced out of the lineup with a concussion. He also underwent postseason ankle surgery that kept him off the ice during the Kings' development camp in early July, though he feels he'll be ready to go by the time training camp opens in September.
When he comes to camp, he'll be battling players such as Doughty and Teubert for a spot on the Kings' blue line. Although it means increased competition for playing time, Hickey was glad to see the Kings take more defensive talent.
"It's pretty neat the way it works out, because I know both of those guys," he said. "I know Drew really well -- he's one of my best buddies. I was happy when he got called. We're rooming together down here (at development camp) and having a great time. It's encouraging the way they're building up this stockpile of defensemen to add to the ones they already have."
Hickey and Doughty got to know each other while playing for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, where they helped the Canadians capture the gold medal last winter. It's an experience he'll never forget.
"To this day, that was my best hockey experience so far -- winning a goal medal with that group of guys," he said. "I didn't know a lot of them, but we jelled together so quick. It's definitely something I take pride in. It will be nice to look back on and know you won a gold medal."
Hickey, who says he models himself after defensemen such as Detroit's Brian Rafalski, is best known for his offensive skills. He's capable of skating the puck out of his zone and makes good outlet passes. He can also quarterback a power play. But he sees himself as more than just an offensive defenseman -- and his play at the World Junior tournament and in the WHL showed that his game is becoming well-rounded.
"I think the offensive part is what gets noticed in my game, but I take a great deal of pride in the way I play defense," he said. "I like to play the body. I think you have to, especially for a smaller guy. People look at your size and say you might not be ready for this. I make up for it with the way I play. I'm not a headhunter, but I take the body."
Hickey could wind up in Los Angeles this season -- the Kings' current roster lists only four defensemen with NHL experience. Assistant GM Ron Hextall said at the draft that the Kings' defense "needed to be rebuilt" and noted later that the team has left holes on the roster that it expects to be filled by young players.
Hickey realizes there are no guarantees.
"They don't say too much," he said when asked if the Kings' have revealed their plans for him. "I think everyone has a shot going into camp, and you've got to prove yourself. That's how I take it. They don't just give out roster spots -- you've got to go out there and earn it. That's pretty much the notion I got -- if you want something, you've got to go out and earn it.
"As a player, you look at what's going on during the offseason and who they've got coming into camp. But you've got to earn a spot, whether it's taking one from a guy who's played before or battling other prospects. There's going to be lots of competition either way."
"I think everyone has a shot going into camp, and you've got to prove yourself. That's how I take it. They don't just give out roster spots -- you've got to go out there and earn it. That's pretty much the notion I got -- if you want something, you've got to go out and earn it. " - Thomas Hickey on cracking the Kings' roster this season
Though the surgery and recovering from the concussion kept Hickey off the ice at development camp, it hasn't slowed his efforts to come into camp in the best physical shape possible.
"For me, being a smaller guy, strength is a big thing, and I've been really pleased with the way this summer's been going," he said. "I've been able to work on my upper body a lot because of my ankle, and I'm really happy where that's at. Aside from that, just little things: how you pass the puck, how you shoot the puck. These are things that are a real focus for me."
If Hickey does make it, the Calgary native feels that playing in a warm-weather, non-traditional hockey market won't be a problem.
"It's not what you think of when you think of hockey," he said of Los Angeles. "But hockey is played on the rink. You come to the rink and you come to play hockey; the rest of the day, it's up to you what you do. It's definitely a change from a place like Calgary, but when you come to the rink, that's where hockey takes place, not outside of it."
Though Hickey says he was "a big Flames fan growing up," he'll be playing a long way from home. Still, that doesn't figure to generate as many problems with family and friends as being picked by a certain other Alberta team might have.
"It would have been an honor to be drafted by any team," he said when asked what would have happened had he showed up in Calgary in an Edmonton Oilers uniform, "but I think I would have lost a few friends."