Thomas Hickey
(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

With Johnny Boychuk out at least three weeks, Thomas Hickey is eager to earn his spot back in the New York Islanders lineup.

Matt Di Giacomo

An injury cut Thomas Hickey‘s season in half, and now it will give him a chance to earn a spot back in the lineup for the New York Islanders

It was one week ago Tuesday when the Islanders completed their sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and things may have been different had Pittsburgh taken a game or two. All three of Jordan Eberle, Cal Clutterbuck and Johnny Boychuk missed shifts in Game 4, but it’s the latter who will miss a minimum of three weeks.

On Dec. 17 against the Colorado Avalanche, Hickey remembered how quickly an NHL career can come crashing to an end. A gruesome accident resulted in Hickey suffering a concussion which had him sidelined for an unknown amount of time.

When Hickey went down in his 32nd game of the season, he was a vital cog in the Isles’ defense averaging 19:04 of time on ice. The Islanders adapted their approach with new personnel and were able to establish themselves just fine with the “next man up” mentality.

In the same way that Hickey’s injury opened the door to Devon Toews to earn his shot, Boychuk’s absence opens the door for Hickey to make a return, and he knew it.

It was hard for Hickey to not get excited when Boychuk knew he would be missing significant time, and Boychuk was more than happy for his teammate. Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post asked Hickey about what being drawn back into the lineup meant for him, and how Boychuk reacted to it:

“He’s excited for me,” Hickey told Cyrgalis on Friday. “It takes a lot of people to achieve the ultimate goal, hopefully we can play long enough where we see him back in a uniform this year. We wish him the speediest recovery. He’s a guy whose presence will be with us even though he’s on the shelf.”

Coming up clutch in key moments isn’t anything new for Hickey, who has had a knack for big moments (especially in overtime) since breaking into the league. In the 2016 series against the Florida Panthers, Hickey scored the Game 3 OT goal that provided the Isles with their first playoff game win at Barclays Center.

Of the four different pairings Hickey found himself on throughout the 2018-19 regular season, two that stand out as most successful according to Corsica.

Throughout the regular season, Hickey played most alongside Scott Mayfield. The two combined for a Corsi rating of 51.18%, the highest of any pairing Hickey played for. Though the line only has about 55 minutes of ice time together, a Corsi rating of 49% suggests Hickey and Nick Leddy be given more time together.

Hickey’s versatility provides Trotz with a top-four defenseman who has experience playing special teams and will slot in nicely on the PK (currently ranked second-best in the Stanley Cup Playoffs at 90.9%).

As the Islanders continue what they hope to be a lengthy playoff run, the “next man up” mentality will be tested more and more.

For a while in Game 4, it seemed the Islanders could be down up to three key roster players including their first-round ace in Eberle. Their earned break allowed them to rest those guys, including Clutterbuck who may have missed time in the first-round series had Pittsburgh pushed harder.

Whether the services of Ross Johnston, Luca Sbisa or perhaps even Dennis Seidenberg will be called upon is unknown. The only certainty is the faith instilled in the entire group by GM Lou Lamoriello and the coaching staff he put in place to guide the Islanders in a new direction.

Carolina’s dominant 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals guaranteed a Game 7 in their first-round matchup, and another window for the Islanders to continue to heal in anticipation.

Grew up a diehard Islanders and Mets fan based out of Northern New Jersey. Concluding my Broadcast Communications degree at William Paterson University. WP Sportsdesk member, Stan Fischler correspondent, music buff and total Star Wars freak. Follow my social media handles to learn more. Matt Di Giacomo is a Staff Writer for the Islanders on Elite Sports NY. He encourages team discussion. Tweet him @mdigiacESNY and check out his reviews on YouTube.