Joe Hicketts might not be who you think of first when you picture a defenseman in the NHL, but he might be the defensive prospect I’m most excited for (sorry Vili Saarijärvi). The 5’8″ 174lb former Captain of the Victoria Royals has made the leap from the WHL to the AHL and is proving that he belongs in his first professional season.
Hicketts was undrafted in 2014 but took an invitation to the Red Wings annual camp in Traverse City. There, he managed to impress the Wings enough to earn a three year ELC contract. In the following two seasons with the Victoria Royals he captained them while putting up 125 points in 121 games. Hicketts has also won a gold and a bronze medal in his appearances with Canada for the World Juniors (Fun Fact: he was Canada’s shortest defenseman).
The reason I bring up the World Juniors is because it’s where I first saw Hicketts’ potential.
With the Red Wings powerplay in dire straits right now, Hicketts is the kind of blueliner that the Red Wings could benefit from, a quarterback that can cycle the puck well (because the Wings love to do that) and keep the play moving. But the question has always been, can he make the transition to the Pros in spite of his size? Blashill once said referring to Hicketts “those are the guys that end up being players because they keep slapping you in the face saying ‘I’m a hockey player.’ ”
As of right now, Hicketts is certainly slapping me in the face.
So far, Hicketts leads the Griffins rookie defensemen 8 points in 19 games played, 4 points behind the leading scoring defenseman Robbie Russo (who’s scored his 12 points in 22 games). Now, I’ve not been doing this for very long so I don’t know the right way to break down how a player is doing great or not based on stats. But what I can do, is show you how good Hicketts has been.
11-11 Against the Rockford IceHogs (Assist)
This whole play comes from Hicketts. Here it is:
As the Rockford player comes into the zone, Hicketts sticks with him and checks him off the puck (nice to see the physicality. It’s always the small ones that seem to be throwing the body around. Someone get advanced stats of hits per game by height for me?). Then he loses his balance as he’s pressured by the other forward (and his own teammate) but gets the breakout pass off perfectly. As they play develops Hicketts hauls his ass back into the zone in time to rip a slot shot that gets deflected into the net by Campbell. This play is basically everything I want from a defenseman in the NHL: defensively responsible, good breakout, offensive upside in getting shots to the net.
11-4 Against the Iowa Wild (Assist)
You’re welcome Matt Lorito.
Hicketts once again takes his position at the point and reads the play well. Instead of taking a shot that will certainly get blocked, Hicketts quickly sees that Lorito is up, takes a slap pass, and gives him an easy goal.
12-7 Against the Chicago
Hicketts had two goals this game, I’m gonna show you both of them.
Now it’s Hicketts turn to thank Mitch Callahan.
This is a pretty simple play but it’s a good one. Hicketts pinches up to get open and rips the one timer top shelf perfectly.
Look he did thank Mitch at the end there too.
(No one cares but I used to score this shot on Xbox so often that my friend Zac (who will hopefully contribute some articles about Michigan Hockey here at some point) calls it the Schwartz Special.)
I like this play just because it shows what a shot Hicketts has. Given the space, he can rip it was speed and accuracy, moreso than most defensemen I think are currently sitting on the Red Wings roster.
Joe Hicketts has played less games in the AHL than his is old (19<20) at this point. He said in an interview at the beginning of the season that he wants to make a push to be on the roster in “3-4 years”. I don’t want to get too excited, but if Hicketts keeps developing the way he is, with his work ethic, I think we could see him making a push sooner than that and being a big topic in the discussion about next defenseman to make the Detroit Red Wings.
I look forward to checking in on him again closer to the end of the season.
Sources used for this article:
GriffVision (check out lots more Griffins highlights here)