When the New York Islanders claimed former Los Angeles Kings prospect Thomas Hickey off waivers in January, it wasn’t the kind of deal that made headlines. Two months later, the young defenseman has seized the opportunity to be a full-time NHL defenseman and has a goal and two assists for the Islanders. He is one of a small handful of Kings cast-offs to go on to success elsewhere this season, with Andrei Loktionov (New Jersey Devils) and Rich Clune (Nashville Predators) being two other names that immediately come to mind.
Hickey was drafted by the Kings in 2007 after a stellar WHL season (nine goals, 50 points) with the Seattle Thunderbirds. He scored eleven goals and added 34 assists the following season, and helped Team Canada win a gold medal at the World Junior Championship. His final junior season included career-highs in goals (16) and points (51) as well as another WJC gold medal, as a teammate of now-fellow Islander John Tavares. Injuries would slow his first professional season, but he became a mainstay for the Manchester Monarchs in 2010-11. Despite respectable numbers in the AHL, there never seemed to be a spot for him in Los Angeles. The Kings have no shortage of talent at defense at the moment, and when the lockout ended Hickey was one of the players deemed expendable.
While he may only have one goal this season, it was certainly a big one. Hickey got the overtime game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens on Feb. 21, beating Carey Price for his first career goal. He had two assists last Tuesday in another meeting with the Canadiens and has seen his ice time increase as the season wears on. Hickey is also plus-2 for the season, a respectable mark for someone who plays on a team that gives up as many goals as the Islanders do. This year seems to be chock-full of feel-good stories like Hickey’s, as hardworking players are getting a chance to shine in a condensed, competitive season. From the Islanders perspective, they found a reliable depth defenseman with a ton of upside for the bargain price of $700,000, and there’s nothing wrong with that.