Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Hicketts tricked himself to make NHL
EWARK, N.J. — Joe Hicketts plays with the mindset that if he believes it, others will see it.
The Detroit Red Wings defense prospect eyed his NHL debut with glee and determination, confident the traits that got him here will help him at the highest level of professional hockey.
Generously listed as 5 feet 8, Hicketts turns heads with how hard he competes and how hard he hits.
“I definitely trick myself into thinking I’m a little bit bigger,” Hicketts said after Monday’s morning skate at Prudential Center. “It’s something that’s just ingrained in my mentality that if there is a puck I’m going to go get it; I’m going to do everything in my power to beat the guy beside me in that battle.”
That swagger is why the Wings called up Hicketts to offset the loss of Trevor Daley, who is sidelined by a lower-body injury. Tentatively, the plan was to pair Hicketts with 6-foot-4 defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.
It is possible for an undersized defenseman to forge an NHL career; Brian Rafalski, closer to 5 feet 8 than his listed 5 feet 10, topped 800 games thanks to being an outstanding passer. Hicketts spoke admiringly of Chicago’s Duncan Keith — not an undersized guy, but one who’s “constantly moving his feet and someone you can look up to.”
Hicketts is a good story. He succeeded in juniors and playing for Canada at two World Junior Championships, including a gold-medal performance, and earned an NHL contract after going undrafted. Last season, he was pivotal to the Grand Rapids Griffins winning the Calder Cup. Now comes the biggest stage yet. His parents, Mike and Lee-Gaye, made the trip from Kamloops, British Columbia and stayed overnight in Toronto.
Hicketts radiated enthusiasm as he spoke to media.
“Every time I go into a battle I’m thinking to myself that I’m going to win it,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing at this level. Obviously being an undersized defenseman, using my smarts — I think I have a high hockey IQ.”
Hicketts said he never thought about switching back to forward after moving to forward around age 12, even though his size would be a little less of an issue if he played up front.
“I was always able adapt my game to the level I needed, whether it was junior, world juniors, American league and now I get a chance to prove that I can play at the National level as well,” Hicketts said. “Being undersized, I think I can surprise some guys. When the opportunity is there I’m going to make a check, and if not, I’m going to try and use my smarts and speed to get that puck back.”