There's an old saying that can really explain the prospect that we are going to talk about today, and that saying goes "big things come in small packages." That's the perfect way to describe defenseman Joe Hicketts. The Red Wings acquired Hicketts as a free agent in 2014 after he went undrafted as an 18-year-old.
Hicketts is currently playing with the Victoria Royals in the WHL. The five-foot-eight lefty was nominated as captain of his junior squad 2014 after serving as an alternate. While his offensive instincts are second-to-none, the looming concern with Joe Hicketts is that his frame is far below the NHL average for a defenseman. He weighs 175 lbs, and is less than six feet tall. How much of a concern is that, though? The thing is, where Hicketts lacks in size he makes up in sheer potent hockey sense and abilities. He's smart, agile, and thinks like a forward while setup in the other team's zone. Despite his size, Hicketts plays a big game. He uses his on-ice vision, and lower body strength to strip the puck from the carrier.
Joe Hicketts plays a complete 200-foot game in that he can be a lethal option back on the blue line, he can shut down developing plays coming through the neutral zone, and use his sense and vision to keep players in his zone on the perimeter.
After signing his entry level deal with the Red Wings, Joe Hicketts went on to score a career-high 65 points in 62 games with Victoria, and was the most-scoring defenseman in the WHL for the entire season which earned him a spot on the WHL (West) Second All-Star Team. Hicketts was also selected to represent his country in the 2015 World Juniors, where he posted three assists in seven games helping lead Team Canada to a gold medal.
If you can manage to set aside the fact that he's small, you'll have an easier time believing me when I tell you that he has all of the tools to be a future NHL defenseman. Having had the pleasure of watching him participate in last year's development and training camp, I can say with confidence that Hicketts was likely one of the better defensemen out of all the prospects. He just has that certain swagger to him when he's carrying the puck. It's also worth mentioning that he's only 19 years old, and is still a growing teenager. It wouldn't be crazy to think that he could grow another inch or two, and pack on another 20 pounds of muscle. So yeah, he's small.. But seriously just watch this:
Yeah, I don't care how small you are - If you can launch an outlet pass like that, you've definitely got my attention. The best part about Joe Hicketts is that he was acquired as a free agent, meaning the Red Wings got him for essentially nothing. No draft pick, no trade. Just good ol' scouting. He'll spend another year in Victoria before moving to the AHL level, but this kid's story is turning out to be a great one. From undrafted free agent, to a top prospect in a very lush pipeline of players.
Joe Hicketts may be the most dynamic and exciting defensive prospect in the Wings' pipeline (remember, for this discussion we're excluding Alexei Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet). At 5'8" 180 ish pounds, Joe Hicketts may be a small defenseman, but he doesn't play like he's small. He's offensively dynamic, sound defensively, a very good skater, smart, energetic, an exceptional puck mover, and has all the tools necessary to be a productive NHL'er. He's fantastic QB ing the power play and while being an offensive defenseman, is still very good defensively, using his hockey IQ and skating skills to cover for teammates mistakes. He has a great, accurate shot and makes beautiful passes, watching him on the ice is a lot of fun. Both last year and this year in Red Wings camps he's been a standout defenseman, and he just turned 19 in May. Hicketts combines dynamic offensive and defensive skills into one package and the Wings were incredibly smart to sign him to a contract last year. The first thing most people bring up about Hicketts is his size, wondering if such a small D-man can not only survive but be productive in the NHL. I absolutely believe Hicketts does have what it takes to make it in the NHL despite his size disadvantage. Smaller guys have to be smarter, and Hickett's awareness, anticipation, and hockey IQ are high enough that he can not only keep himself from getting hurt or taken advantage of by bigger players, but I've watched him strip the puck from much bigger players and make them look downright silly.
It's also worth noting that 180 pounds for a kid who's only 5'8" and he's got a solid, stocky build and he doesn't play like he's small. I've seen bigger players try to hit him, only to witness Hicketts dodge the hit and literally laugh it off. I've also seen him pop right back up after being sent into the opposing player's bench from a hit. He's a tough cookie who can handle himself physically among much bigger players, and he can also outsmart them, skate circles around them, take the puck from them, and leave them wondering what happened. We're still talking about a 19 year old who hasn't yet played a game in the AHL, but everything I've seen from Joe leads me to believe he can be a good NHL player and he has a lot of potential. He has fantastic leadership qualities and has a good head on his shoulders, keeping things in perspective and understanding that nothing he has is a given.
From a kid who was passed over in the draft, to a Red Wings Development Camp invite in 2014 to a top Red Wings prospect, Gold Medal winner for Team Canada in the 2015 World Juniors, and potential Captain for Team Canada in the 2016 World Juniors all in just over a year, Joe Hicketts has absolutely earned all the praise we're heaping upon him. Hicketts has the potential to be a great asset for the Red Wings and possible fill a role (dynamic offensive defenseman) the Wings don't currently have and may not have in the next couple years. Joe will be playing in the Prospect Tournament in a few weeks and as impressive as he was last year, I'm excited to see how he's progressed since then.
JJ - #7
Graham - #7
Kyle - #6
Michelle - #11
Jeff - #7
Joe - #8
Caleb - #11
Christian - #7
Prashanth - #7
Lauren - #8
It will be interesting to see how he pans out at the professional level, but I have high hopes for the pint-sized defenseman in Joe Hicketts. He'll remain to be a top defensive prospect in this system until he makes the next step.