Monday, November 24, 2014

Thomas Hickey Autograph card

Thomas Hickey didn't get to the NHL the easy way, though he was drafted 4th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 2007; because he was picked ahead of Sam Gagner (6th), Jakub Voracek (7th), Logan Couture (9th), Ryan McDonagh (12th), Lars Eller (13th), Kevin Shattenkirk (14th), Max Pacioretty (22nd), P.K. Subban (43rd), Jamie Benn (129th), Jake Muzzin (141st), and Nick Bonino (173rd), many fans and journalists were quick to label him as a ''bust'' forgetting that defensemen take longer to mature than forwards do, that reaching the NHL in your 20s is perfectly fine, and there isn't much one can do with freak injuries but wait for them to heal, and to get back on the horse when they do.

Keep in mind that Gagner (with an Edmonton Oilers record of 8 points in a single game on his resume), Eller (a 4-goal game and long stretches where he looked like a #1 center), and Subban (a Norris trophy as the league's best defenseman) have all, also, been subject to much criticism from both the media and fans on social networks.

Hickey was chosen by the Kings to be the guy who had the Juniors career he had post-draft: a leader, point-per-game defenseman who was a key player in two Team Canada gold medals at the World Juniors - the latter as team captain, on a team that included John Tavares, Subban, and Zach Boychuk.

He had some adjusting to do in the AHL, except for those first 7 games at the tail end of the 2008-09 season where he was riding the wave from the World Juniors to producing almost two points per game in the second half of the year with the Seattle Thunderbirds, and having the Manchester Monarchs give him all the ice time he needed to contribute to the tune of 7 points in 7 games.

And though his point production normalized in the AHL to some 25 points per 75 games, he was seen as enough of a presence to warrant being named alternate captain. He led the team in +/- statistics in 2011-12 and was a ''Black Ace'' for the Kings' Stanley Cup run. The lock-out and depth on L.A.'s blue line got him invited to the team's mini-training camp for the shortened season, but when he didn't make the cut and had to clear waivers, he was claimed by the New York Islanders, and he's been a steady presence on their blue line ever since.

He averages around 19 minutes of ice time with the Isles, despite the team having acquired Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy at the beginning of the season, helping the team's defense (with Jaroslav Halak in goal) quality equal that of its offense, for the first time since the early-1990s.

The team is currently tied for first in the Metropolitan Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins (who have a game in hand), and whom the Islanders beat twice over the weekend. The Pens' resident cheap-shot artist Steve Downey laid a dirty hit on Hickey in the second game, grabbing a minor penalty in the process and forcing Travis Hamonic to intervene.

I thought I had a card of Hickey's with the Monarchs, but I can't find it; still, it's even better to have one of his with the team he's found his niche with - and has become an important part of - the Islanders:
It's from Upper Deck's 2013-14 SP Authentic set (card #SOT-HI of the Sign Of The Times sub-set), signed on-card in blue sharpie, and showing him in the Isles' current/retro white (now-away) uniform.

He's yet another example of good defensemen reaching maturity in their mid-20s, and their peak from ages 28-32. The first rule of drafting is being patient. If you trust a player enough to select him instead of thousands of other candidates, have faith that he will develop well if you lead him down the right path.

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