Mighty Joe Hicketts: Victoria Royals’ diminutive dynamo reflects on a wild year

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Jon Howe/Victoria Royals

Victoria Royals captain Joe Hicketts may not look like a prototypical NHL defenseman. At 5-8 and 187 pounds, he is one of the smallest defenders in the WHL. However, what Hicketts lacks in size, he certainly makes up for in skill. Hicketts’ skating ability and puck smarts give him the ability to cover for his teammates and generate offensive chances, and he has lethal slap shot as well—a dangerous combination for opposition netminders, to be sure. 

Hicketts has surely had a year to remember. After overcoming a tricep injury that required surgery, Hicketts’ 2013–14 season was abbreviated and certainly affected his stock in the NHL draft. The 18-year-old defenseman was one of many draft hopeful players that did not have their name called on draft day.

Instead, Hicketts scored an invitation to the Detroit Red Wings development camp—an opportunity that he capitalized on. Hicketts landed a three-year NHL entry-level contract with the Wings after impressing the Detroit management in training camp.

“This past year was definitely a neat experience,” said Hicketts. “To see all the ups and downs that you can have in a season [referring to his injury last year] . . . I had a lot of help in the room with the coaches, the staff, and the players—it has been a really fun year.”

For Hicketts, draft day itself was memorable but perhaps not for the right reasons. “I was obviously excited to start the day. Every hockey player only dreams of getting drafted into the NHL,” said Hicketts. “As the draft goes on you see players get drafted and maybe think that you’re better than that. At the end of the day I didn’t get drafted and I was so disappointed.”

This was, of course, before he knew Detroit was interested in him. “Three days later I found out that I was going to their camp and I was extremely excited and really tried to ready myself and impress them at their camp.”

Every hockey player has a hero, a player their model their game after, and Joe Hicketts is no different in that regard. Growing up, it was Nikolas Lidstrom, the 6-1 retired Swedish defenseman who is widely considered one of the greatest defensemen of all time.

“[Lidstrom] is a real character guy—played a lot of minutes, [and] played in every situation possible,” said Hicketts.“When I got older, I chose Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty, two exciting, offensive d-men that I really try to model my game after for the past few years. “

Hicketts is excited at the prospect of playing in Grand Rapids, where the Wings’ American Hockey League affiliate is located and says, “Wherever they want me to play, I’d be happy to play there. I’ve heard from all the players at the camp that they all love playing there; it’s a tight-knit organization that takes care of their players.”

So after this rollercoaster of a year, it’s understandable that it is a bit of an adjustment to come back to Victoria after the excitement of an NHL camp. Nonetheless, Hicketts described the adjustment as being a bit strange but very fun.  “I love this city, I love my team, and I love the guys; and for me, being a part of this, it’s really special.”

As far as his expectations for the Royals go this season, Hicketts is confident that they have what it takes for success in the post-season. “Anything can happen over the course of a season, and I think we can build a team that can go deep in the playoffs, [and] win one, two, maybe three rounds this year.”

Hicketts has returned to the Royals lineup after being chosen to represent the WHL as an assistant captain in the Subway Super-Series, an annual all-star tournament against Russia’s best prospects. The Royals currently sit second in the B.C. division with 24 points, trailing only the Kelowna Rockets.