Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill talks about what defenseman Joe Hicketts can bring to the team. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Detroit — Just like everyone else, Martin Frk was taken aback when he first saw Joe Hicketts.
It was at the prospects tournament in Traverse City, and Frk saw Hicketts, (generously) listed as 5-foot-8, 180 pounds, stride into the locker room.
“I was really shocked how small he is,” said Frk, echoing the general reaction. “But then, when I saw him play, he was excellent.”
Hicketts, who has defied the odds throughout his career, was recalled Sunday by the Red Wings and will make his NHL debut Monday in New Jersey.
The move was made necessary when defenseman Trevor Daley was hurt during Saturday’s loss to Carolina.
Coach Jeff Blashill said Daley is questionable to return before the start of Friday’s All-Star break.
Blashill plans on inserting Hicketts into the lineup immediately.
“Joe has a couple of things I love,” Blashill said. “He has swagger and he has a great brain for the game.
“We could use some of that swagger, and we need a little more offense from our back end.”
Hicketts, 21, an undrafted free agent, has played in 43 games with the Griffins this season, with eight points (two goals, six assists).
Hicketts was the leading defensemen scorer last season on the Calder Cup-winning Griffins, with 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists).
“He hasn’t had an unreal year production-wise, but you look historically, his point production as a rookie (in Grand Rapids last season) and his last year in junior hockey (61 points in 59 games) were great.
“He had a great training camp for us (in September) and we’ll give him a look. I don’t know if it’ll be a long look or a short look He’ll have something to say about that.”
Going back to that swagger, it’s an ingredient Blashill doesn’t mind having on a team.
“The more guys you have like that, it’s an important component of a hockey team,” Blashill said. “Now, part of that, in order for that swagger to be effective, he has to play well. He has to have a positive impact on the game.
“But the more people you have — and we have people like that in this room, and it’s not a missing ingredient — but I also think the more people you have like that the better off your team can be.”
Frk was Hicketts’ teammate last season on the Griffins and was impressed.
“He can definitely play the power play, has a good shot, and for how small he is he can hit real hard, he can be real physical,” Frk said. “He was one our best defensemen last year.
“He’s a little small, but he plays like a tall guy.”
Blashill was emotional talking about the passing of Jim Johannson, general manager of USA Hockey, who died Sunday in his sleep. Johannson was 53.
The two had a long friendship, and were together at last year’s world championships, with Johannson choosing Blashill to coach the team.
“I’ve known him for a large number of years, and certainly our friendship over those years, in lots of different interactions and certainly at the world events, when you spend a month together … he really enjoyed life and he’ll be missed for sure,” Blashill said.
Johannson helped assemble the U.S. team at the upcoming Winter Olympics, which was put together without NHL players.
“Jimmy’s impact on hockey in the U.S., I don’t think can be overstated,” Blashill said. “Certainly the success we’ve had internationally is in large, large part because of his work.
“He’s had a huge impact on my career, including, obviously, having the opportunity to coach the men’s world (championships) last year.”
Johannson is survived by his wife, Abby, and daughter, Ellie.
Excluding Daley, the Red Wings are expecting to gradually have a couple of injured players return.
Blashill is hopeful Luke Glendening (wrist) could return Tuesday when the Red Wings host Philadelphia. Glendening has been out since Dec. 21.
Justin Abdelkader (lower body), Blashill said, could return Thursday, but Darren Helm (lower body) isn’t expected until after the All-Star break.
Both Abdelkader and Helm were injured Jan. 13 against Pittsburgh.
…Blashill wants to see a better start than what the Red Wings produced Saturday against Carolina.
“It wasn’t even close to good enough,” Blashill said. “We have to be way better in totality in the first. We played as loose as we had in a long time and we can’t play loose. (Goaltender) Jimmy (Howard) made big saves to keep us in a good spot.
“We got better as the game went along but we have to make sure people earn ice and we’re hard to play against.”
Red Wings at Devils
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Monday, Prudential Center, Newark. N.J.
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Devils (24-13-8, 56 points) have hit a rough patch over their last 10 games (3-4-3), after a terrific start this season, due mainly to injuries … LW Taylor Hall (17 goals, 31 assists, 48 points) leads offensively, but has sat out practices this week, because of nagging injuries.