Newark, N.J. — Small body, big heart, tough frame of mind, occasionally violent intention and a plucky personality.
Early impressions of Joe Hicketts, matched to observations from coaches and fellow players, led to Red Wings fans anticipating the arrival of the 21-year-old defenseman from Grand Rapids, who played in his first NHL game Monday. Hicketts had one hit and three blocked shots in 15 minutes, 13 seconds of ice time in Detroit's 3-0 victory over New Jersey.
It is, doubtlessly, unfair to the young player. But that is the state of the Wings.
Desperate for significant upgrades to the defensive corps since Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart’s departures in 2011 and 2012, fans warmed quickly to the undersized young defensemen lighting-up opposing players with hard body checks.
But they were really impressed when the saw some precision passing on the power play in the preseason, and they checked his career stats, which reveal a strong intention to generate offense from the back end.
Mike Green will likely be traded as the Wings eye the Feb. 26 trade deadline 11 points from playoff position entering play Monday, is the lion’s share of the offense from the back end, with five goals and 21 assists at the start of play Monday.
The rest of the defensemen had a total of six goals and 32 assists, combined.
While the Wings might be making significant strides rebuilding their stock of forwards after their recent stretch as perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup, the redevelopment of the defense lags, considerably.
It did not help that first round draft picks Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith did not work out as well as hoped.
Hicketts will not turn the big battleship by himself. It will take development and personnel moves over time, perhaps a few seasons, especially if it is all done internally.
But he provides encouragement during a season that likely was more about development than making the playoffs, regardless.
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Joe Hicketts talks about his work ethic being key in reaching the NHL. The Detroit News
“I think part of my personality and character is being positive, being relentless in a way,” said Hicketts, who lists at 5-feet-8 and 180 pounds.
“I’ve been able to push through all those, maybe not difficulties, but that adversity that I’ve faced through my career, so far.
“And, it’s made me better for it, both as a player and a person,” Hicketts, a native of Kamloops, British Columbia, said.
“So definitely a big positive for me, coming here tonight and looking forward to it.”
He said his body-checking has a bit to do with his size, in the way that he can surprise some players with physicality.
“I use it mostly to separate the man from the puck,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest part, using everything to your advantage to get the puck back.
“When the opportunity is there, I’m going to use it. When it’s not, I’m going to use my smarts and speed.”
Booth on waivers again
The Red Wings exposed the 33-year-old forward David Booth to waivers for the second time this season. Booth scored in the second period of Monday's win over the Devils.
GM Ken Holland said that with Tyler Bertuzzi playing well, Luke Glendening nearing a return to the lineup, the timing is such that preparations for roster moves might be necessary before the Wings play the Flyers back in Detroit, Tuesday.
“We are putting ourselves in a position that if we have to make a move Tuesday, we can do it,” Holland said.
Booth, expected to clear waivers, might well stick, if Glendening is not ready to play
Flyers vs. Red Wings
Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit, 97.1 FM
Notable: Red Wings have made little progress in the standings despite an imbalanced schedule in January that has them playing eight home games and three on the road. They are just 10-9-6 at home, on pace for little improvement over 17-17-7 last season… Flyers are back in playoff contention. The goaltending situation is unsettled, but Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth have put together three strong, consecutive games.