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Photo Credit: courtesy Calgary Flames/NHL Media

Prospect wrap up: Brandon Hickey

Brandon Hickey has tumbled out of the NCAA tournament and (hopefully soon) into the hands of the Calgary Flames.

The 2014 fourth round pick has been earmarked since draft day as a potential future stud, and had a promising draft +1 year. He slipped in year two, which raised some concern. Has he been good enough in year three to redeem himself? Let’s find out.

Brief history

Elaborating on what I said above, Hickey began his career as a standout AJHLer headed to a prestigious hockey school (who had the number one recruiting grab that year with Jack Eichel). He made everyone pay attention with a surprising 17-point effort, way above his freshman expectations. BU reached the NCAA finals, just losing to Providence.

In his second season, Hickey looked to pick up where he left off.  The first step was being an early shoo-in for Team Canada’s World Juniors team. Heading into that tournament, he had seven points in 17 NCAA games.

Then he had some sort of hangover, because he scored only one point in the next 19 games. The end of the season was nearly a disaster for Hickey, who saw his offence dry up, finishing with just eight points and a hasty exit in the NCAA tournament.

2016-17 performance

GP-G-A-P Primary Points 5v5 P1 NHLe
35-4-11-15 9 4 13

So he was better than last year, but he still fell just short of his first year production (although six fewer games played). He was mostly consistent with respects to scoring, and didn’t really fall into major droughts or bursts.

The more concerning matter is that his shot totals dropped again, falling from 84 to 67. Just a reminder, he had 115 shots in his first year.

However, relative to his team, Hickey was still third in defensive scoring and third in defensive shooting. He wasn’t even lagging behind significantly, only nine shots away from first place (three fewer games played). If he got a bit more ice time, he’d probably be a bit closer to Chad Krys and Charlie McAvoy.

Statistically, he was similar to his ranks in his first year. What gives?

From my observances (although limited), it was quite clear that BU was trying to calm down their defence and protect the net. Instead of being the goal scoring juggernauts they were in the past, the Terriers hunkered down and focused on blueline distribution rather than blueline shooting. Defencemen were less responsible for offence, and the team as a whole played a more structured, traditional game.

As a result, BU went from 31st in the nation in goals allowed (106) last year to ninth this year (90), so the coaching staff likely got what they wanted. If it has to come at the expense of Hickey’s statline, then oh well.

Final thoughts

While we still haven’t heard about a contract just yet, it will be interesting to see how the Flames want Hickey to develop when he’s in Stockton. Judging by Ray Edwards’ comments way back when, they will like the defensive steps he’s made.

The second question is where he fits. Stockton is an ever-growing mess right now with seven active defencemen, so he’ll have to fight for ice time in the near future. Kenney Morrison came out for Adam Ollas Mattsson, and they still need to make space for Josh Healey. With the playoffs still a realistic goal, why would Stockton want to swap out their trusted defenders for unproven kids? Are club politics really worth it?

The more important part is next season, where Hickey stands a chance of making the big team roster. With the recent overstocking on defence, I’d imagine that the Flames are hoping that a few prospects can fill the holes on the bottom six. It’s plausible that he makes the big team, but I think the more realistic option is some seasoning time in the AHL.

Previously

Riley Bruce/Nick Schneider, Tyler Parsons, Eetu Tuulola, Matt Phillips, Dillon Dube, Adam Ollas Mattsson, Linus Lindstrom, Pavel Karnaukhov/Rushan Rafikov, Tim Harrison

  • OKG

    What is all this context nonsense and rationalization? Don’t you mean:

    “His numbers are meh! Let’s trade him for a 2nd round pick in 2019! Oh and I heard from someone else that he’s a 3rd pair D on his team whose coach doesn’t trust him thererfore it’s fact!”

      • piscera.infada

        I absolute fairness, I did myself asking a similar (albeit, less snarky) question when reading this article. It does seem like we often get these prospect reports that read “all available data points to the fact that ‘x’ prospect is pointing in the wrong direction over the past year… the context doesn’t really matter”, whereas this one seems to actively search for largely narrative-based ways to explain away a prospects struggles.

        I’m not arguing against that per se, and I really like Hickey as a prospect. The arguments you made are sensical to me, and I respect that. I don’t watch much (if any) college, and I don’t know much about how any of the teams are structured. I do however remember a number of prospects (like say, Jankowski) over the years being tarred and feathered in articles, but when similar narrative-based arguments were made in the comments, writers would reply by saying essentially “those don’t matter, they’re non-quantifiable in any meaningful way–a good prospect is a good prospect regardless of situation”. I also fully acknowledge there are other factors that play into the validity of those arguments.

        Again, I’m not saying “you’re wrong”, nor do I want to come across that way. It just seemed a bit odd during my reading as well.

        • 1. The issue here is that OKG is still mad over an article I wrote for a different site about a year ago, and has done so before on articles not about or barely related to Jankowski. If he has constructive, relevant criticism, he can spit it. If he’s going to be upset about some perceived vendetta, not going to allow it.

          2. The difference between the two is not that simple. For Jankowski, the narrative goalposts moved whenever the data didn’t fit the previous narrative. For example, his shot numbers were very concerning, and he wasn’t making meaningful improvement with regards to shot production. The original issue was that he was a freshman/sophomore and he would improve with ice time, but then the issue became that Providence was holding him back in a defensive system and rolling four lines. From my perspective, the narratives weren’t attempting to explain the data, they were offering excuses for the data not being promising. It didn’t add up.

          The difference with Hickey is that (I feel) I’m explaining a struggle instead of wishing it away. He’s a defenceman, and that offensive productivity is not the end-all-be-all stat for him. If you want to know why he’s struggled offensively, I’ve provided my interpretation for why that’s happening and why that doesn’t have to be a major concern.

          • piscera.infada

            Definitely. I don’t disagree with you on any of that. My point regarding Jankowski was simply an example. There have been an number of prospect profiles over the years by many writers (and comments by some commenters), that simply gloss possible context for the statistics as irrelevant at best. It just caught me off guard somewhat that there’s a piece that was so heavily based upon similar context. Again, not saying it’s wrong. The article (and context) was reasoned and sensical–and I definitely agree with a lot of it (again, not having watched or heard much about what’s going on with BU). Just not really what I was expecting.

            Regarding Hickey specifically, why do you suppose he has such a difficult time being placed in a role to succeed. I know many thought this was his year with BU. As I understand, BU is stacked on the blueline. I remember on Team Canada at the WJHC he seemed extremely under-utilized as a defense first blue-liner, while there seemed to be much more to his game. I just wonder what he can do to create that (necessary) separation from other players, so he just doesn’t turn into a JAG (just a guy). Thoughts?

          • I see now.

            I think Hickey is a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none type player. When BU needed him to be an offensive player, he could be one. When they needed defence, he could do that. The problem is that he struggles at trying to do both. I don’t know what exactly it is, but he doesn’t look comfortable when he has too much on his plate. Next step would be to become that two-way guy. There’s a lot of defence-first and offence-first in the org, but not a lot of both ways guys.