There’s no telling where Joe Hicketts would be right now if he was only a few inches taller. The 5’8″ defenseman from Kamloops, British Columbia has been told his whole life that he’s too small for a professional career in hockey. It’s why he went undrafted.
But Hicketts never listened to those voices. He stayed determined and kept fighting, eventually signing an ELC with the Red Wings and working his way through the farm system to being on the brink of playing a regular role on the NHL roster.
His story is inspiring, but it’s also coming to a crossroads very soon. The Red Wings have focused on defense big time in the last few drafts and the longer Hicketts yo-yo’s between Grand Rapids and Detroit, the less likely he is to become a regular NHL-er. He may be the closest defenseman prospect to cracking the roster, but he’s also got the furthest to fall. And right now he’s balancing on the edge.
That’s why he’s #24 on our rankings.
Weight: 181 lbs
Birthday: May 4, 1996 (23-years-old)
Latest team: Grand Rapids Griffins
Born in Kamloops, BC, Hicketts was drafted 12th overall in 2011 by the Victoria Royals of the WHL. In his first season with them, he scored six goals and 24 points. He took a big step forward in his second season, where he played half the games, but recorded the same amount of points. In his third season, he took an even bigger step forward, scoring 12 goals and 64 points in 62 games.
Throughout his junior career, Hicketts was also recruited by Hockey Canada and represented his country at multiple international competitions. He was a staple on the Canadian blue line all the way until he turned pro, collecting a bronze medal at the U18 World Junior Championships and a gold medal at the U20 World Junior Championships, where he wore an ‘A’ for the team.
As mentioned above, Hicketts went undrafted in 2014, but was invited to the Red Wings development camp the following week. After playing in the team’s prospect tournament and impressing through their training camp, he signed a contract with them as a free agent. He was then returned to the WHL for two more seasons, were he served as the Royals’ captain and finished 2nd among league defensemen in scoring.
In his first professional year, Hicketts contributed seven goals and 37 points through the regular season and one goal and eight points through the playoffs as the Griffins took home their second Calder Cup in five years.
The very next year, Hicketts found himself in the NHL, where he played five games and recorded three assists with the Red Wings. From being told he was too small, Hicketts had finally made his way to the show. It wouldn’t stick, though. He started the following season in the NHL with three other rookie prospects and, as the NHL roster got healthier, he was the last to be sent back down. He rejoined the Griffins, putting up a slightly disappointing three goals and 27 points through 64 games.
The one word that comes to mind when describing Joe Hicketts is “fiery”. The average NHL-er is over six feet tall, so Hicketts has to compensate for his small frame with aggressive play and confidence. He has both of those qualities and they are evident when you watch him play. He isn’t afraid to throw his weight around, going shoulder-to-shoulder with big 4th line forwards in the corners, or to lead the breakout, carrying the puck from deep within his own zone to the offensive zone blue line.
Joe Hicketts of the Detroit Red Wings is 5’8” and just DESTROYED two Maple Leafs players pic.twitter.com/p4LOfUuVs2
— Bar South N Celly (@BarSouthNCelly) September 30, 2017
Hicketts doesn’t have much of a nose for the net and, if we’re being honest, isn’t that effective when he’s on the ice. He had the second worst Corsi-For percentage among all defensemen who played for the Red Wings last season. He plays a big game, a fast game, an urgent game, but he isn’t that effective.
The one thing they say about Joe Hicketts is that he has a lot of heart. He plays bigger than he actually is and that counts for something. It’s more of an intangible quality that is hard to quantify. His fearlessness is what’s made him successful so far, but at what point does his skill level max out? No matter how fearless you are, you need to be able to compete with veteran NHL-ers. Joe Hicketts has something in him, but I don’t believe it projects too high on the depth chart.
That being said, Hicketts will likely spend the bulk of the 2019-20 season in Grand Rapids. Last year, his role on the Griffins was to be a leader and a mentor for the young guys. He will likely have to repeat that this year.
With how crowded the Red Wings blue line is, especially now with Patrik Nemeth in the mix, Hicketts has slid further down the depth chart. Any regular openings are far more likely to be filled by Filip Hronek and Dennie Cholowski. That’s not to say Hicketts won’t play at all. With this blue line’s age and history, there are bound to be multiple injuries at the same time. He may get the call-up to play through some of those vacancies, but I don’t expect it to be in any permanent or regular capacity.
The Wings just extended Hicketts for two more years, but this is his year if it’s going to happen for him. He’s already teetering on the edge of being a career AHL-er. If he can’t make the jump this season, I fear that’s what he’ll be.