New York Islanders: Defenseman Thomas Hickey Has Impressed So Far

UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - MARCH 20: Thomas Hickey #34 of the New York Islanders in action against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game at Nassau Coliseum on March 20, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
UNIONDALE, NEW YORK - MARCH 20: Thomas Hickey #34 of the New York Islanders in action against the Philadelphia Flyers during their game at Nassau Coliseum on March 20, 2021 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

Thomas Hickey has been somewhat of a surprising bright light as of late for the New York Islanders.

The New York Islanders got some big news yesterday that defenseman Noah Dobson had been removed from the NHL’s COVID-19 list. In an abundance of caution, the Isles did not bring Dobson on their three-game road trip as he will undergo a series of tests to make sure everything checks out. That means his first game will more than likely be against the Washington Capitals next Thursday at Nassau Coliseum. What this also means is that veteran defenseman Thomas Hickey should be in the lineup for at least the next three games.

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When Dobson was initially added to the NHL’s COVID-19 list back on March 14, questions loomed on who would be his replacement. While Sebastian Aho got the first opportunity, as he slotted in for three games alongside Andy Greene, his defense proved to be a work in progress, despite his offensive touch. Last Saturday, veteran Hickey got his chance, as he played in his first NHL game since the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

He was nothing short of spectacular in his first game back, as he slotted in alongside Scott Mayfield on the third defensive pairing. The 32-year-old picked up two assists in his 16:34 minutes of work and did not stand out on defense, which meant he did the right things. Hickey was never an in-the-spotlight kind of player. He went out there and did his job, and it was vintage Hickey on Saturday night.

Come this past Monday, Hickey was back in the lineup and deservedly so. The goal now was to see the defenseman put together another strong performance.

In the 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Overtime on Monday, Hickey made it clear that he could be relied upon in critical moments. He recorded a block, two hits, and a shot on goal in 18:39 minutes of work. Given his strong play in regulation, he even got the opportunity to play in OT.

What has made Hickey successful in his first two games is his quick thinking in all zones. For instance, on Monday against the Flyers, the puck was rarely on Hickey’s stick for longer than a few seconds. He fed his linemates tape-to-tape in the offensive zone, and if he did not see a passing option, he threw the puck behind the net. In his own zone, if there was no clean pass to escape, he used the boards.

He kept it simple.

Thomas Hickey (34)
Thomas Hickey #34 of the New York Islanders. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

New York Islanders have seen Thomas Hickey play a simple game thus far this season

For a player that stands at 6-foot and 160 pounds, the Calgary native did not seem fazed by any of the opposition’s forwards. Hickey did a tremendous job at fighting for pucks, and even when he failed to garner inside position along the boards, he used his strength and stick to keep the puck pinned until help arrived.

And when he had the opportunity to get the puck out, he got it to his partner Mayfield or another Islander forward waiting close by.

Hickey’s one shot in this game came just inside four minutes to go in the middle frame. He took a slapshot inside the blue line, as Flyers’ netminder Brian Elliott just got the stick on it. It was an intelligent and accurate shot, one that had a strong chance of going in. The eight-year veteran defenseman has shown a strong awareness when on the ice over these last two games, as if there was no shooting lane, he did not try to force anything. If the lane became unavailable, he quickly altered his gameplan.

Other defensemen may take that not-so-smart shot instead, especially those who have not played very long in the NHL. That could lead to an odd-man rush in the other direction, and as the defenseman that took the shot, the likelihood of getting back is rather slim.

With the score knotted up at one in the third period, Hickey came up huge in the defensive zone as he picked up his only block of the night. With 11:26 to go in the game, the Flyers found themselves on an odd-man rush. Hickey did not panic as he took away the shooting lane in the slot and made an excellent play to step up on Erik Gustafsson.

That brings me to my final key point, which was Hickey’s positioning in his own zone. He never lost his man, which had been an issue for the Islanders this season. He protected the house, the front of the net, and used his positioning to force the Flyers to alter their plans. Hickey was in lockdown mode.

During Overtime, Hickey was rewarded with two shifts (1:03). He probably would have remained on the bench if it was your usual OT scenario, but the Islanders started overtime on the kill. After surviving the remaining 12 seconds on the Nick Leddy penalty, we saw four-on-four action until the game ended. Hickey made a pivotal play on his second shift of overtime, as a soft clearing attempt by the Flyers was batted out of mid-air by No. 34, which allowed the Islanders to stay on the attack. It did not translate directly into Anthony Beauvillier‘s game-winner, but anytime a team gives up the puck in Overtime, it could be the last time they get it back.

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That is now two solid showings for Thomas Hickey to kick off his season. He now will slot in against a Boston Bruins team that is welcoming back superstar David Pastrnak and others, as this will be another test for the veteran defenseman to keep earning minutes and keep on impressing for the New York Islanders.