Sunday, March 3, 2013

Former T-Birds breaking into NHL ranks

I love watching players I've seen hone their skills here in the WHL make their mark in the bigs, especially two former Seattle Thunderbirds defensemen who have taken two very different roads to the NHL.

Thomas Hickey was drafted #4 overall in 2007 by the LA Kings, then spent three years making his mark with the Kings' AHL affiliate Manchester Monarchs. Shoulder surgery held him back one season. He made the AHL All Star team another season. But after signing Thomas to a one year extension, LA placed him on waivers this season. The New York Islanders snatched him up and placed him on their roster. He hasn't had too much ice time, but Head Coach Jack Capuano seems pleased with Thomas' cool head, great vision and smarts. To cap things off, he scored his first NHL career goal, scoring the OT winner against the Montreal Canadiens on February 21. (Read about it by clicking here).

Thomas Hickey shows off his first NHL goal puck.
(Photo: New York Islanders/Getty)

A number of Isles fans/writers thought once Lubomir Visnovsky returned to the lineup, Thomas would be sent to AHL Bridgeport, but he's still in the lineup - and still getting ice time.

I've been teased because it's no secret he's my favorite Seattle Thunderbirds player. I admire his work ethic, his strong skating skills and his perseverance - showing everyone that smarts can help make up for (lack of) size. He also happens to be a heck of a nice guy, or at least, he's been extremely nice and very intelligent the several times I've interviewed him over the past several years. There are many other Thomas Hickey fans among the T-Birds crowd - and we'll continue cheering for him to succeed.

The other former d-man making his mark is Brenden Dillon, who played with the T-Birds from 2007-2011. Brenden did not get drafted, but his work ethic during this final year with Seattle helped him stand out in the d-corps, catching the eye of several NHL teams, including the Dallas Stars. A successful training camp followed and Brenden found himself honing his skills with the AHL Texas Stars in Austin. Just one year later, he's in the Dallas lineup, using his size and skill to their best advantage. Brenden scored his first NHL goal on February 1 versus the Phoenix Coyotes. He also had his first assist and a fight, giving him a Gordie Howe Hat Trick. (Interesting note: Brenden's first WHL goal at age 17 was also part of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick versus the Portland Winterhawks). Brenden chatted with me about his transition from the WHL to AHL to the NHL. You can read it by clicking here.

Brenden Dillon shows off his first NHL goal puck.
(Photo: Dallas Stars/Getty) 

Another former T-Bird, forward Jim O'Brien, has been quietly making his mark with the Ottawa Senators. So far this season, Jim has scored 5 goals and contributed to the Sens' somewhat solid showing so far. Click here to read more about Jim.
Jim O'Brien celebrates a recent goal.
(Photo: Ottawa Senators/Getty)

It's been great watching these guys pursue their NHL dreams. So far, so good.

(NOTE: I did not include former T-Birds Patrick Marleau (San Jose Sharks) and Brooks Laich (Washington Capitals) because they're already pretty well ensconced in the NHL, but I am well aware of these two stellar alums)

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