While New York Islanders Thomas Hickey ended his 2016-2017 with slightly more of an offensive edge than he usually displays, he left some to be desired in defensive play. In the upcoming season, it’s imperative to see his improvement in the team’s own zone.
What We’ve Seen
In the 2015-2016 season, New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey earned a spot in fans’ hearts, creating some of the most memorable moments of the year with the overtime goal in the playoff clinching game against the Washington Capitals and again performing OT heroics in Game 3 of the playoffs against the Florida Panthers.
That year, the small defenseman also displayed how aggressive his play could get, laying hits like the infamous body check on Jonathan Drouin in round two of the playoffs against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
With this successful season, hitting a career high in goals and pushing the New York Islanders to the playoffs, the 28-year-old showed us what he was capable of.
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In the season to follow, Hickey continued to make a fairly positive impact offensively. Although never known as your typical “offensive defenseman”, he kept his reputation as Mr. Overtime with two more goals in extra minutes, one coming against the Nashville Predators in his brief stint as a winger towards the end of the season.
Hickey even had a small points streak in mid March, earning five points over the course of four games and showed more of an eagerness to contribute offensively with nearly 200 total shots on goal, his second highest amount recorded with the team.
He also continued his more aggressive streak, almost reaching his personal high in hits with 89 and even getting into his first NHL fight, wrestling Radek Faksa of the Dallas Stars down to the ice in late January.
With all this being said, Hickey’s defensive play in his team’s own zone is left in question. With 43 giveaways and less time with the puck in comparison to his other blue line counterparts, number 14’s possession for the season was lacking.
Hickey’s size and speed also became an issue when back-checking in the 2016-2017. Too often we would see him a stride or two behind his man entering the zone, leaving Thomas Greiss or Jaroslav Halak to practically fend for themselves while his defensive partner scrambled to make up for lost ground.
This could maybe most obviously been seen in the Islanders’ third meeting with their cross town rivals, the New York Rangers when Rick Nash was able to body his way past Hickey with ease to give his team a 2-1 lead.
What To Expect
Although his flaws are apparent, it’s important to recognize where Hickey thrives in order to utilize him properly in the upcoming season.
As with any player, the defenseman’s productivity was directly affected by those on the ice with him at the time. Playing with a third or fourth line ahead of him, Hickey suffered. However, seeing him play behind the first or second line increased production for both himself and those forwards, improving the play of even the team’s top men like Anders Lee and John Tavares.
The most important thing to recognize in the 2017-2018 season is that Thomas Hickey plays best alongside the young defenseman, Scott Mayfield. The two work well together, their contrasting sizes actually complimenting one another. Mayfield’s powerful shot makes up for Hickey’s weak one while 14 is able to move the puck more fluidly than 42.
While all these conditionals make Hickey out to be a “high maintenance player”, I think that the production he has when surrounded by the right teammates will continue to make him a more valuable asset going into the last few years of his contract.
This season, keeping on track with his average offensive production, I expect a 21-point season for the defenseman with 16 assists once again and 5 goals although the focus will be on his defensive improvement.