You could be forgiven if you hadn’t have heard of Brandon Hickey when he was drafted last summer.
The third round selection, 64th overall, of the Calgary Flames in the 2014 NHL Draft flew a bit under the radar as a draft prospect – he ended the year ranked 63rd among North American skaters by Central Scouting. But the Flames, having their ear to the ground in their own backyard, nabbed him from the AJHL’s Spruce Grove Saints. A year later, the 19-year-old defender looks like a completely different person. His game has some swagger and he’s sporting a beard, a by-product of his lengthy playoff run with the Boston University Terriers.
Listening to Hickey speak, you can kind of tell what the Flames liked about him, even ignoring the on-ice displays he put on during the past season. The kid seems like a sponge, and listening to him describe his whirlwind last season – the draft, Flames development camp, his season with the Terriers and the NCAA playoff run, and recently receiving an invite to Hockey Canada’s summer junior camp – he still seems motivated to improve his game.
He credits a lot of his progression over the past season to his Boston University coaches – specifically head coach David Quinn and associate coach Steve Greeley.
“I think I progressed a ton,” shared Hickey after an on-ice session at Flames development camp. “My coach, Coach Quinn, great hockey mind, you know he taught me a lot this year – and Coach Greeley as well, the defensive coach. And I couldn’t have been more happy with my season. Played a ton. With a big freshman class you know the opportunities are going to come, so I think the coaches handled that really well.”
While Hickey is a self-professed fan of the defensive game, the area that he feels he most improved in probably sounds like music to Flames’ fans ears given the playing style Calgary has embraced recently.
“I’d say my offensive side of my game [has progressed the most],” said Hickey. “I threw up a good number of points this year, felt more comfortable jumping into the rush and adding offense from the back end and I think that stems from the coaches having confidence in me, telling me to use my feet, use my skating ability and get up into the rush.”
The praise for Hickey – from collegiate hockey observers, from Flames fans and from Hockey Canada – has done one big thing for him: given him a boost of confidence.
“It for sure adds to the confidence side of the game, and hockey is a game of confidence,” said Hickey. “If you’re going to be playing with confidence you’re just going to produce more and play better overall, so I think that really helps me kinda see where I’m at in regards to the rest of the country and the rest of the world as well.”
While expectations for Hickey may be raised next season, a byproduct of a strong freshman campaign, the Terriers will be diminished by the departure of one of Hickey’s best friends on the team – Buffalo Sabres second overall pick Jack Eichel. Hickey notes that he learned a lot from defending against Hickey throughout the season.
“You pick up on a lot of the tendencies that the good players have,” said Hickey. “How they can change speeds so fast. I noticed in the first month he was one of the hardest guys to read coming in on a one-on-one because his legs don’t look like they’re moving that fast, but he’s got that long explosive stride so he’s able to pick it up as he’s coming down on you. It really helps to pick up on little pointers on what to watch for when a guy’s coming down on you; hand positioning, and watch his eyes as well.”
As for Hickey, he’s not tipping his hand as to his long-term collegiate plans – granted, few players typically do. He remains focused on improving himself as a player and making the Flames want to have him on their roster. While it’s unlikely he’ll enjoy the kind of rapid-fire progression this year that he had as a freshman, his plan of making the Flames want him is working pretty well so far.
Hickey returns to Calgary for Hockey Canada’s U20 summer development camp August 1-6 at the Markin MacPhail Centre at Winsport. The camp features two games apiece against junior squads from Russia and the Czech Republic. Then it’s back to school, as Boston University begins their schedule in October.