Thomas Hickey made his return to the NHL for the New York Islanders on Saturday after a more than 700-day absence. The defenseman chipped in with two helpers in 16:34 of total ice-time as the Isles dispatched the Flyers 6-1.
There’s clearly still some rust on the 32-year-old’s skates, but he showed that he could still be an effective player at the NHL level. And that single performance could very well change Lou Lamoriello’s approach to the trade deadline.
If Thomas Hickey can play 16-18 minutes a night, the Isles might not need to look for a depth defenseman at the deadline.
Thomas Hickey changes New York Islanders trade deadline
When Noah Dobon returns from his suspected bout with COVID, he will certainly replace Hickey in the lineup. Whenever that is. Barry Trotz craves stability, there’s no doubt he’ll revert back to this familiar six-man defensive core when Dobson is cleared to return:
But at the deadline, every cup contender does one thing, they bring-in depth defense. As the old adage says, defense wins championships. Veteran coach Barry Trotz knows this. Heck, his entire coaching philosophy is built on that principle.
But if Thomas Hickey can continue playing as he showed against Philly in his return to the NHL, the Islanders won’t have to go shopping for a depth-D cause they’ll already have it.
Just to be clear, by “continue playing as he showed” I don’t mean “score two points a night”. If we’ve learned anything from Thomas Hickey’s NHL career it’s not that he’s a top-end offensive-defenseman. He’s usually good for 20 points in a year.
But, what we do know about Hickey is that he’s an incredibly intelligent player who knows where to be and what to do. Here are his underlying stats from the other night and how that compares to all Islanders skaters (not just defensemen):
- 60.87 CF% (5th)
- 58.33 SF% (7th)
- 88.81 xGF% (1st)
- 90.91 SCF% (1st)
- 100 HDCF% (1st)
(All stats at 5on5 and from NaturalStatTrick.)
Yes, Hickey is playing sheltered minutes on the third pair and only played 15:40 of 5on5 time. But that’s exactly what you’d expect him to play at this point in his career. He’s a bottom pair defenseman who should play primarily at 5on5, maybe on the PK if one of the Isles regulars misses time or is in the box.
It’s only one game and against a struggling Flyers side, so, yes, these results may be a little flattering for Hickey. But, they are absolutely sustainable based on the role he’d play on the roster. Meaning, Lou would have no need to look for depth-defense at the trade deadline.
Fringe benefit: It also makes Thomas Hickey more valuable in a trade in the offseason.