Brandon Hickey has unfinished business in college

Brandon Hickey had an interesting season last year.

On one hand, the 2014 Calgary Flames third round selection completed his sophomore season with the Boston University Terriers and made an appearance at the World Junior Championship with Team Canada – an acknowledgement of his superb skill and strong placement relative to the other blueliners in his age group. (And it’s fairly rare for a bunch of Canadian Hockey League coaches to bring along a player from the NCAA, so it’s a big deal.)

On the other hand, the Terriers failed to repeat the success of their 2014-15 season where they went to the NCAA championship final, and Hickey himself saw his offensive totals cut in half from his freshman year.

We chatted with the Drew Doughty lookalike (he has shaggy hair and a Doughty-esque beard now) during Flames development camp.

“I felt like I played really well
the first half,” said Hickey. “The second half, the whole not having Christmas break affected me a little bit and was a little bit worn down. With all the
lifting and skating we do at school, I kinda let that creep into my
game and fatigue. But this year I’m gonna come in in even better
shape, I’ll work on my conditioning and work on my play.”

Hickey’s drawn praise for his excellent skating and mobility, as well as his devotion to play sound defensive hockey. As the hype surrounding his play grows, Flames fans have engaged in the predictable hand-wringing over when he’s going to sign with the club and leave college. Hickey says he’s taking everything a year at a time, as he has since he was drafted.

“I’ve kind of kept an open mind the
last couple years and I’m planning on doing the exact same,” said Hickey. “I’m gonna
take everything as it comes, don’t wanna get too far ahead of myself,
don’t wanna plan things that might not happen. Just wanna take
everything in stride and focus on how are things going so if the
opportunity does come where I feel like I can leave early and I feel
like I’m comfortable doing that, then I’ll take the opportunity.”

Hickey and his club have some unfinished business, in that they obviously want to get back to the NCAA championship game (and win this time). The Terriers added Dante Fabbro, Kieffer Bellows, Clayton Keller and Chad Krys, among others, during their recruiting and the team could be really strong and really deep next season.

“Obviously it stings a little bit
obviously what happened against Providence a couple years ago and it
kind of sticks with you, you kinda want to go back and get revenge,” said Hickey.
“With the phenomenal freshman class we have coming in this year I
think we can do that exact thing. We can come in, play well, go deep
into the playoffs. Also it’s about the returning guys, too, it’s not
just about the freshmen. We have great returning pieces, we have some
great goaltending, great defensemen and great forwards.”

Hickey’s attitude is probably the right one to have right now; he didn’t have an amazing season last year and it’d likely be best for him to go pro with a bit of momentum. And if he had turned pro, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious opening within the pro system for him to play. But following this season, the contracts of NHLers Ladislav Smid, Deryk Engelland and Dennis Wideman are expiring (as are the deals for AHLers Kenney Morrison, Ryan Culkin and Brett Kulak).

With the possible (and let’s face it, downright likely) graduations of a few AHL bodies to those open NHL jobs in 2017-18, the sales pitch to get Hickey to sign on the dotted line will likely become a lot more enticing after his junior year. If Hickey and Boston University have a strong season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him turn pro as soon as this spring.

  • McRib

    Standouts from the scrimmage Kylington, Tuulola, Dube, Parsons, Ollas-Mattsson, Tkachuk, Mattson, Schneider, Hickey, Jankowski, Carroll, Andersson, Fox, Rempel, Burke, Phillips, Culkin, McDonald, Morrison.

    For starters my top three standouts were by far the best performers in my eyes. Oliver Kylington looked amazing every time he stepped on the ice. Defensive positioning is much improved from last season and he constantly played with his head up hitting some extremely tight breakout passes. We all know how phenomenal of a skater he is, but now other aspects of game are starting to catch up with his feet. Tuulola blew me away as well showcasing a ridiculously accurate shot coupled with great puck protection and stickhandling to get through traffic, constantly taking the puck all over the ice. He scored two highlight reel goals. Dube when he turned it on was dominant as well and has a extremely high skill level. When he wanted to he took game to a level few in camp could touch, truly possessing a top end get away gear to beat defenders wide. Before his eye injury Dube was on pace for well over 100+ points this past season and he never looked the same the rest of the year, missing the edge he had in first two months. I think once he finds that edge next year he will be among the league leading scorers.

    One other major takeaway is our future blueline has a very bright future, as all the defenders looked great in the scrimmage at certain points. If Tyler Worherspoon doesn’t make the team out of camp this year he never will as we are just loaded with talent. Ollas-Mattsson really impressed me with more offensive chops than I was expecting making a couple slick offensive zone feeds down low to forwards. The camp in particular was the strongest prospect camp I have ever seen and I am confident this crop of players will produce numerous NHLers and to be honest we may not have room for them all. We have come along way in the last couple years. There really wasn’t a bad performance at all to be honest. Mitch Mattson also was surprisingly effective, I mean Tuulola scored two of his goals solely off smart subtle plays from Mattson.

    • Baalzamon

      I am confident this crop of players will produce numerous NHLers and to be honest we may not have room for them all.

      A problem every organization wants to have. Thanks for the updates, McRib

      • McRib

        Thanks. If anyone has any specific questions on certain individuals I can try to answer them today, but everyone I listed played so well I didn’t want to get too long winded with my comment. Flames fans will also appreciate that it was three deep of standing room only today at Winsport.

        • Baalzamon

          Well, how about David Rittich? I understand he got torched for five goals in the first half. Was it as bad as it sounds on the scoresheet, or did he just get hung out to dry?

          • McRib

            He struggled with angles that are a result of playing on the smaller ice surface, especially on rebounds. He squared up well on the first shot, but he had trouble picking up wingers coming in late from the other side. Conditioning also seemed to be an issue, altitude? Obviously it’s just one viewing, But yeah he let in five of the seven goals scored today.

            All of the other three goalies were great, Nick Schneider looks like a different person after adding much needed strength to his frame therefore he was playing with a ton of confidence and didn’t let in a single goal (also went 9 for 10 in shootout, Burke snipped a real nice one). Parsons looks like the real deal and McDonald was also solid all camp, as mentioned I could see Gillies & McDonald being the AHL tandom this year. McDonald could steal away the job from Rittich, time will tell.

          • McRib

            Yeah, Andersson has highly advanced puck skills and made some great offensive plays in the scrimmage, but he won’t be playing in the NHL until he gets conditioning in order. I noticed him gasping for breath in the practices last couple of days and it was obvious Treliving was also noticing that as well, watching him in the stands. Altitude likely doesn’t help his case either, but conditioning is not a hard thing to correct, he has all the other tools to be a good offensive NHL defender.

      • Joe Flames

        Once some of these guys start to prove themselves ready we can start trading some of our established NHL guys for more picks/prospects or to fill a need at a position. That is how teams get to be contenders and stay contenders for a long time.
        Nice position to be in. It takes good drafting and FA signings to get to this point. The next year or two is crucial for us to get out of rebuilding mode and start contending.
        Good work by BT.

    • cberg

      Good, succinct summary. Yes, a lot of guys really put in strong performances. I especially loved seeing what Tuulola could do, very impressive! As far as Rittich was concerned, Yes he did give up 5 goals but I believe 1 was a penalty shot and 1-2 others break-aways…and it was at the far end so it was tough to really tell who was responsible.

    • McRib

      I sure hope so, Burke had a couple of real dominant shifts today where he could have easily walked away with three or four assists if teammates finished chances he setup. He did manage to score a gem in the end of scrimmage shootout with all the brass watching. He was mostly playing with a couple of the weaker QMJHL FAs, but when he played with Phillips, Hickey, Fox he made great passing plays. He got pushed off the puck a couple of times by the more experienced AHL defenders in camp, but once he adds more strength he could be a steal.

      BCHLer Sheldon Rempel was also great in this entire camp, honestly if he wanted to forgo NCAA he could be playing in AHL next year. Unreal set of hand and elite finish. If he goes NCAA at least he is from Calgary and we have best chance at signing him. He won’t last long though in the NCAA as he was already better than the NCAA veterans in this camp. Dennis Kravchenko got a ton of ice time today and he looked solid, apparently he is willing to forego rest of NCAA career if Flames sign him, so watch for that. You could tell brass was really playing him to showcase him a ton. I think they know what they have stumbled on with Burke, so they should get it done there with a contract regardless. I kind of get impression as long as Burke was solid this week they were going to sign him. I mean it’s not everyday an 18 year old scores 109 points and goes undrafted.

        • McRib

          Interesting if he is that keen on getting noticed by NHL teams maybe he is looking for a contract now? Just speculation as NCAA is a great opportunity he would have to forgo, but he just stood out in a big way alongside a bunch of guys who have already played 2-3 years of NCAA. Once again time will tell, looking like another great product to come out of the Bufs organization (I played for NW and was always superemely jealous of how well run the SE was).

          • Yeah i got the impression that if he can get a pro contract he’ll take it. Even AHL. College is more PLAN B as in something to do with his time while playing hockey and getting an education out of the deal. But Plan A is always to make it pro.

      • cberg

        It will be very interesting to see who the Flames sign out of the invites, if any. I agree that several are strong candidates with Burke heading that list. As far as I’m aware they are all free agents at least until the Fall, then some will go back into the draft? Also, not sure how signing will impact kids wanting to go to college?

        • McRib

          Sheldon Rempel has to sign in the coming weeks because he would have to begin planning on going to the NCAA and start registering for classes, etc. He isn’t eligible for the Pentiction tournament because it’s against NCAA legislation (obviously he can play in it if he is signed beforehand and has forgone NCAA aspersions). He doesn’t go back in the draft next year because he is now 20 years old, so he is a FA and the moment he signs he looses NCAA eligibility. Whether that’s this summer or next summer or four years from now when he is done NCAA (don’t see that happening he is too talented and it sounds like he wants a Pro deal over an NCAA diploma).

          Brayden Burke will not sign until later this summer, because hopefully we invite him to the Pentiction tournament (and he accepts) to get an even closer look. You are correct though Burke would go back in the draft if we don’t sign him before the WHL season starts (Flames signed Nick Schneider last year following Pentiction Tournament). So don’t expect Bruke to be signed until after Penticton Tournament. Let’s also not forget fact Burke is two years younger than Rempel, when comparing the two today.

          Furthermore because NCAA players are not eligible for the Penticton Tournament (Hickey, Fox, Mattson, etc), European players are also not usually willing to come over because European Men’s League (AOM, Lindstrom, maybe Tuulola as Everett owns rights, etc) training camps have started as well, we may see a couple more CHL FAs on that tournament roster.

  • freethe flames

    I was at the scrimmage today and would like to add my views. The player that impressed me the most was Ollas-Mattsson. He was the most effective defender and also consistently contributed offensively. He made one of the best defensive plays out of the corner in the whole scrimmage, he was in good defensive position, took the body, usually won his puck battles and when he made a mistake or two he worked his butt off to get back into the play. IMO the Flames should be seeing what it would take for him to come to NA and play in Stockton as I think his development would really be enhanced playing in NA.

    Tuuola was also outstanding not only did he score a number of highlight reel goals he was almost impossible to get off the puck. BT should be working hard to get him to decide to play in NA as it will help his development.

    These were my two standouts. I thought both Janko and Culkin struggled in the first half of the scrimmage but played much better in the second half of the scrimmage. Tkachuk was okay but did not stand out IMO; we have heard so much about his work on the boards and below the hash marks but I never noticed him in those areas. Phillips is a little water bug who scored an awesome shoot out goal and made some very good plays. I also was more impressed by Foo than I was with Burke. Foo scored a goal and worked very hard away from the puck.

    As for the goalies I thought Rittiche struggled at times. MacDonald let one in that he probably should have had but also made a bunch of excellent saves before that and again after that. Parsons and Schieder where both very solid and the one goal Parsons scored on was by Tuolla and that was a thing to behold.

    Other than that most of the guys who you would expect to look a bit better where sound. Kylington is exciting to watch, Hickey, Fox, and Morrison were sound. Andersson was not as good as I had hoped.

    • cberg

      Agree that Ollas-Matsson and Tuulola were outstanding, and I’d also like to see both in Stockton if possible. I wouldn’t necessarily say Jako and Culkin struggled as both had some very good shifts. Tkachuk also had some moments but overall the play was a bit scattered so his efforts down low were lost in the scramble. I felt Andersson was also sound with a great command of the ice and always in great positions.

  • Stud Puffin

    Concerned about Andersson’s conditioning. It shows a lack of commitment. Maybe showing signs of someone who is unwilling to put in the work. Hope not, but concerning nonetheless.

    • cberg

      Yeah, may be true. Hard to lay too much blame on the guy though, top D in the OHL and top-level scorer for two years straight. Its more like, you’ve got the potential to be great!

  • Burnward

    To be fair, Andersson really doesn’t need to impress anyone here.

    Just a summer skate. Maybe he went fishing for a couple weeks after his season. His work begins in September.

    • Kevin R

      Maybe once he gets to Stockton Flames can get more involved & help him get this conditioning thing down to where he should be. If he was the same last year, sheesh he had an awesome year last year, can you imagine if he could get the conditioning down. Not to show my age but I remember a guy by the name of Guy Lafleur who smoked over a pack a day & still was pretty darn good player, not sure about the state of his lungs today but you know what I mean.

      • McRib

        Ryan Huska was talking about that in particular with Pat Steinberg yesterday on the radio. He was discussing the fact that the AHL coaching duties have a lot to do with mentoring the players off the ice to become better adults as well, saying they all spend significant time teaching proper nutrition, how to cook, etc.

        Apparently Ryan Huska had to help Oilver Kylington get his drivers license last year, Hahaha.