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This week I’m going to do a few posts about NCAA prospects for various sites around the Nation Network. Most will be based on in-person viewings, speaking with their coaches, and so on. Some will not. Okay that’s it bye.
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On Saturday, Boston University will play its first game in two weeks to kick off what it hopes will be a run to the Frozen Four for the second straight year. The Terriers will play the University of Denver Pioneers, having crashed out of the Hockey East tournament in the quarterfinals with two straight losses to a very good UMass Lowell team.
I saw both of those games and, as per usual, I tracked the play of Flames draft pick Brandon Hickey (a size-y offensive defenseman taken in the third round in 2014). And unfortunately what I saw continued something of a troubling trend.
A little more than a month and a half ago I told you Hickey was playing very well on BU’s second pairing and that was true. In the games I’d seen, he was a massive possession force, dominating middling competition to the tune of a plus-4.9 CF% (56.2 percent) and plus-32.7 GF% (72.7%). Now granted, that latter number is never going to last, and it was only in seven games of viewing, but in the last seven weeks I’ve nearly doubled those live observations, and his play has steadily declined.
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The big picture

This is where I’m at for the full season with him at this point, having seen more than one-third of BU’s games total:
Nice to be that far above 50 percent, but being a possession drag against middling competition isn’t where you want to be. You’ll also note that the team’s goals-for percentage when he’s on the ice has returned to earth, even as he’s still apparently driving goalscoring.
He’s also still an excellent generator of his own shot attempts, and the quality of his shot remains high. When he gets it through to the net, he can create chaos in high-danger areas and that leads to quality scoring chances. It’s his play in his own end that’s developed into a problem.

Recent play

But during that time the quality of Hickey’s play is very much down. In the six games I’ve seen (out of his 13 played), he’s been just 51.6% CF, 46.7% FF, 46.8% SF, and 36.4% GF. All bad numbers. Some of that is on the goalies, because BU hasn’t been getting good goaltending in the games I’ve seen this year in general (.896 at 5-on-5). But in the last five games I’ve seen in particular, it’s been awful: seven goals on 34 shots.
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And that’s not just bad luck. In the games against Lowell that saw BU bounced from the league playoffs, the Terriers conceded eight goals in all situations, and six at 5-on-5. He was on the ice for five of the eight, and three of the six. In the first game in particular (a 3-2 loss) he personally blew the assignment that led to all three goals. It was an ugly night.
However, as is Hickey’s wont he was also a huge driver in attack and helped generate BU’s first goal of the game.
Said coach David Quinn after that one, evaluating the impact Hickey has with long-time partner Brandon Fortunato:
“They’ve been a good tandem for the last two years. Obviously Fortunato has a lot of ability and skill, and Hickey can really skate and shoot the puck. So, we’d like all of our defensemen to get involved offensively. In this day and age, if you’re gonna create offense you’ve got to have five guys involved. It’s the only way you’re gonna be able to score. It’s something we certainly preach, and we’re no different than most teams.”
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This might not come across in the text, but the tone of that was a little politic, to be honest. Talking about the offensive contributions of a defenseman (or defensemen) on a night when he/they got smoked for three goals in a loss isn’t top of most coaches’ list of things they want to do.
The next night wasn’t much better for Hickey personally (two goals against, both at 5-on-5), and it was much worse for the team (a 5-0 loss that frankly should have been uglier).

The takeaway

In the last seven weeks, I’ve seen Hickey’s PK time diminish steadily, to the point where he’s being used more as a third-pairing guy in that game situation. Maybe Quinn sees him as being more useful to the cause if his minutes are devoted to offense only, which I think is a perfectly reasonable deployment.
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But more troubling is that this offensive defenseman hasn’t been getting himself involved in the offense lately, at least as far as points are concerned. Hickey has just 5-3-8 in 35 games this season, down from 6-11-17 in 41 last year, a decline of about 44 percent in terms of points per game. And that’s after starting the year 5-2-7 in his first 16 contests. So just one assist in his last 19 games, and that’s a big reason for concern from a development standpoint. He has also put just 40 shots on goal in the last 19, in comparison with 44 in the first 16. That’s a point of concern as well.
I’ve said before that I see Hickey as potentially being in the NHL for a decade-plus, but now I’m less sure of that. Unless something went wrong for him (injury, etc.) it’s hard not to be discouraged by his play in 2016.
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