February 22, 2013 7:08 pm

Happy for Hickey

Thomas Hickey’s path towards his first National Hockey League point was not as easy as one would expect for a top-five NHL draft pick.

A junior hockey legend with the Seattle Thunderbirds and a two-time gold medal winner at the World Junior Championships – he served as team captain of the 2009 team that included Jamie Benn, Alex Pietrangelo, Evander Kane and John Tavares – a strong professional career didn’t seem to be in doubt, even if many considered his fourth overall selection at the 2007 NHL Draft to be a major stretch.

Considering his constitution, skating ability and work ethic, he projected as a balanced, character-exuding defenseman. After he was a point-per-game player in Manchester during a seven-game season-ending stint following his junior hockey season of 2008-09, he appeared to be on a path that would soon see him join the Los Angeles Kings as the appropriate step in his career.

Injuries delayed his path to the NHL and stunted his development as a player and his growth on the Kings’ depth chart. He underwent ankle surgery after his 2008-09 season, followed by a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery early in 2009-10. After he returned late in the season, he suffered a high ankle sprain that limited him to four playoff games.

Though he bounced back with encouraging AHL campaigns in 2010-11 and 2011-12, he had been passed over by defensemen like Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin.

Hickey was claimed on waivers by the New York Islanders on January 15. He finally made his NHL regular season debut on January 27, though his usage dipped in February to the point where he had been a healthy scratch for three consecutive games earlier this month. After Brian Strait suffered a broken ankle, Hickey’s usage increased to the 14-to-16 minute range, and he was on the ice in overtime in Montreal last night.

John Tavares used a terrific individual stickhandling effort before falling and shoveling the puck towards Michael Grabner, whose quick pass found Hickey unmarked at the far post. Hickey snapped the pass into the empty net for his first NHL goal, an overtime game-winner.

“It probably feels a little sweeter with all that time,” Hickey said to reporters, referencing the time he spent in the AHL. “There was a lot of hard work put in, a lot of doubts, but I stayed confident and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to play here.”

His first career goal came with his father, Dennis, in attendance.

A continent away, several of Hickey’s former Manchester teammates spoke of the pride they felt in watching him record his first NHL point.

“That was really cool,” Andrew Campbell said. “I texted him right away and congratulated him. That’s a pretty neat way to score your first goal. I’m really happy for him. He’s a great guy, great teammate, good friend.”

The two are quite familiar with each other.

“He was my road roommate for the last three years. We spent a lot of time together, a lot of meals together, a lot of fun. So it was great to see.”

Said Muzzin: “That was awesome. I saw the highlight last night. I was excited for him. That was a nice goal, and what a way to get your first NHL goal as an overtime goal. I’m really happy for him.”

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