"It obviously feels great. I felt that I've been playing really well down there, been playing a lot and it's exciting for me to get another opportunity to show what I can do at this level," Hicketts said after Tuesday's morning skate. "I think I've learned throughout my 10-15 games in the NHL what I need to do and how to do it. I'm looking forward to showcasing that."
Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Wings on Sept. 24, 2014, Hicketts made the Red Wings out of training camp this season, playing in eight games before he was sent down to Grand Rapids.
Over the last two seasons, Hicketts has played 13 games for the Wings. He hasn't scored a goal but has three assists and is a minus-1 with an ice time average of 17:11 per game.
During the 2017-18 season, Hicketts appeared in five games for the Red Wings and was impressive. He doled out his three career assists, was plus-5 and averaged 17:12 per game. His plus-5 led the Red Wings last year.
This season he struggled in his eight games, being held pointless and was minus-6.
Wings coach Jeff Blashill was asked what he hopes to see from Hicketts this time around.
"It's not being erratic, not making big mistakes. It's a hard balance for Joe because he's a gamer. He wants to go make plays. He wants to make things happen," Blashill said. "You want to be able to do those things without making the big mistakes and causing the big chances against. I think that's the biggest thing.
"Again I think we've been successful here the last little bit because we've been able to avoid for the most part those big, big mistakes. If he can play his game without making those big mistakes then he's a real effective hockey player. I like Joe a lot. He's a real good player."
Hicketts has tirelessly worked on his game in Grand Rapids and knows what areas he must improve upon to become an everyday NHL player.
"You can always work on your speed and quickness and agility in the corners. Up here it's a complete different level," Hicketts said. "You look at who we're playing tonight, (Sidney) Crosby, (Phil) Kessel, guys who have proven, not only this year but throughout their careers, which have spanned 10, 12, 14 years, that they're annual top-point producers. To be able to keep up with them, you have to be able to contain them in the corner and be able to close on them quick.
"I think you go out there every shift, every chance you get, and do the best you can do. For me, that's going to be going back on pucks quick, moving it up and spending as little time in the D-zone as possible. If I can do that, I think I can show myself well."
In 61 games for the Griffins, Hicketts led all Grand Rapids defenseman in points with 27, including three goals and was plus-5. This is his third year with the club and Hicketts has seen growth in his play, particularly this season.
"I played well down there. I've done a really good job on the penalty kill. I thought I've taken strides there. Both special teams, to be honest," Hicketts said. "My decision making, I'm making little plays to the middle that I may not have, two years ago especially, maybe even last year. I think I've really gotten used to the pace of play there and knowing what I can and what I can't do in regard to managing the puck.
"(I'm) definitely happy with this year. I've had lots of opportunity and at the end of the day, I think that's all a player can ask for. Once you get an opportunity, it's up to you to take full advantage of it and I've kind of grabbed the reins there and done my part with that opportunity. Now it's about showing what I've learned down there up here and then getting ready for playoffs back in Grand Rapids."
LARKIN AND BLASHILL ARE SOLID: Dylan Larkin admitted two things when asked about Blashill's two-year contract extension.
One, he felt weird evaluating his coach and two, players talk about their coach amongst themselves all the time.
"I kind of feel a little awkward judging our coach, asking about him. He loves the game and that's one of the biggest things I respect about him," Larkin said. "He wants to be better, he wants to be better as a person and as a coach. Really, everyone in here respects him and he respects everyone. We're happy to have him back.
"It's a players' thing to talk about the coach. Everyone does it, every locker room does it. It's always positive (about Blashill). He's a great communicator, he lets you know where you stand. People appreciate that, guys appreciate that. There's no gray area. He wants everyone to succeed, he wants the team to succeed and like I said, he loves hockey, he loves being around guys that love the game as well."
It was during the 2017 World Championship where Larkin and Blashill's player-coach relationship began to solidify and where Larkin began to really learn how to play a high-level game.
"That tournament, I was playing against the best players on the other team and playing a lot of minutes. After that, I came back and took another step the next year and went to worlds again and just keep building. You have to earn the coach's trust to be trusted in big situations and that's what I wanted to be.
"We have a great relationship. I'd say it's upfront, it's definitely a coach and player relationship. I got a lot of respect for him and I feel he respects me. I listen to what he says and feel like he's a big reason why a lot of guys in here have taken the next step in their careers and becoming the players that we want to become. It's good for him to get an extension. It's not something that as players we focus a whole lot on. It's something that we can't control, we just try and play our hardest and listen to how he wants us to play."
Blashill was reluctant but did concede that his extension is an endorsement that his guidance is leading the retooling Wings in the right direction.
"It's affirming. The biggest thing for me personally is I want to keep moving this team in a direction where we all want it to be -- us, the coaching staff, the fan base, the players, the management. I think as I said earlier, I think we're starting to head in that direction," Blashill said. "How quickly we can get to where everybody wants to be, that's a question that can't be answered. It will be answered on a day to day basis on the work that the individual guys put in and can we get just a little bit better every single day. But it's certainly affirming. You feel better about (it) than if you didn't have it."
RED WINGS MUST MAINTAIN STEADY DEFENSIVE PLAY: The Wings have played most of the year with a banged-up blueline and now that DeKeyser joins Mike Green (virus), Trevor Daley (back) and Jonathan Ericsson (lower-body) on the sideline, Detroit will rely on a defensive unit composed mostly of players who have spent a majority of the season in Grand Rapids.
Except for 38-year-old Niklas Kronwall, the Wings defensemen are either in their mid-to-late 20s, Jake Chelios (28), McIlrath (26) or even younger with Hicketts (22), Madison Bowey (23), and Filip Horonek (21).
But as long as the unit continues to play with a steady resolve, Blashill feels Detroit's defense will hold up against its NHL competition.
"What they've been is fairly steady. They haven't been erratic," Blashill said about his inexperienced defensemen. "I think you can win with steadiness on the back end, if you can avoid big mistakes and you can get solid goaltending. It's when you get real erratic -- and we've had some of it -- but when you get real erratic is when you give up the big-time chances that the goalies can't help you enough with.
"But if you can stay steady enough, you might get outshot, you might even get out-chanced but the level of chances aren't big-time. I think that group's done a good enough job of that. They've broke the puck out pretty well, and if you can break the puck out of your end, you've got a chance to win hockey games."
There is also a team buy-in factor with all the Wings embracing the system and believing they can win.
"Everyone's bought in and everyone wants to win and everyone does things to help this team win but I still think you have to learn how to win and you have to learn how to shine in big moments," Larkin said. "You have to learn how to make sure nothing happens when you're on the ice, whether good or bad, just like Henrik Zetterberg used to say, you play 20 minutes, nothing's going to happen for 19 minutes and 50 seconds. It's that one chance you get, I think guys have learned that but we still need to find a way to win big games and one-goal games.
"I think right now you're seeing some confidence in this five-game or seven-game stretch run where we're winning and we're winning against good teams and we're winning close games."
INJURY UPDATE: Blashill told the assembled press corps the Wings will not have any of their injured players back for Tuesday's game versus the Penguins.
In reality, the Red Wings injury situation is just not very good.
"(Frans) Nielsen's done for the year. (Thomas) Vanek, he'd still like to play but it's a pain tolerance deal. I just can't answer that today. Obviously, we're running out of time, though," Blashill said. "I would classify Glenny (Luke Glendening) as extremely close to being out for the rest of the year. I don't want to say that 100 percent. And then (Jonathan) Bernier, totally day to day. We'll see tomorrow if it's way better than today."
If Bernier's season is over, the Red Wings will rely on first-year pro Kaden Fulcher to back up starter Jimmy Howard in net.
Fulcher, 20, has played for the ECHL's Toledo Walleye this season, posting a 15-7-6 record with a 3.00 goals-against average, an .899 save percentage and one shutout. He has been called up to Grand Rapids on a few occasions but has not seen any action in the Griffins net.
"It's been pretty crazy," Flucher said about his last few days. "This really wasn't something you expected in your first year at all, even the call-up to Grand Rapids. I think just being here and knowing the guys a bit from training camp is pretty good. It helped me settle right in."
He describes his rookie year as "up and down" and revealed his biggest adjustment as a pro has been the speed of the game.
"The speed and the shot speed was definitely going to be something to get used to, and I think that has been," Fulcher said. "I think better with your hand-eye and your hands is one of the biggest things I've had to work on this year to kind of make sure I'm seeing those shots and reacting well to them and putting them in good places.
"Coming out of the OHL, the ECHL's a bit looser game, I think. There's a lot more breakdowns and a lot more odds plays where they've got the back door but the guy's going to try to roof it on you from a bad angle anyways. I think is not as predictive as maybe the AHL or the OHL, so that's been a huge adjustment for me."
Fulcher has been trying to soak in the atmosphere as much as he can and though the chances of him seeing any playing time are slight, he can't help but think about it just a little bit.
"It's obviously going to be a pretty cool moment if it happens, but hopefully nothing happens to Jimmy (Howard), obviously," Fulcher said. "If it happens, I think it's just going out and playing. It's just like the Memorial Cup last year. I'm pretty amped to be here. What I'm excited about is I'm playing my best hockey. I think it's just going out and making sure you remain calm. Calm (and) stay collected and just stop the puck."