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Joe Hicketts' heart, swagger, compete level impress Red Wings

By Ansar Khan akhan1@mlive.com, 01/21/18, 2:00PM CST

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DETROIT - Martin Frk was shocked by how small Joe Hicketts was when he saw him at Detroit Red Wings prospects tournament a few years ago.

"But then when I see him play he was excellent," Frk said. "He's a great player. It's like now, size, I don't know if it really matters that much. If you are that small, you have to bring something else to the table. He plays very physical, so I think that's his plus."

Hicketts will make his NHL debut Monday against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center (7 p.m., Fox Sports), after being recalled Sunday from the Grand Rapids Griffins due to Trevor Daley's lower-body injury.

Generously listed as 5-8 and at 177 pounds, Hicketts will be amongst the smallest players in the league. But the 21-year-old defenseman moves the puck well and has a tremendous compete level.

"For how small he is, he can really hit," Frk said. "He can be really physical. He can move the puck very well. His first pass is very good. He was one of our best D there last year. He's a good player. He's a little small but he's playing like he's a tall guy."

Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill wouldn't reveal who Hicketts will be paired with and said it remains to be seen how long he'll be with the team. Daley, injured in the second period of Saturday's 3-1 loss to Carolina, is out at least the next two games and might not return until after the All-Star break.

Hicketts has two goals and six assists in 43 games for the Griffins. He had a strong rookie season in the AHL, with seven goals and 34 points in 73 games. He picked up a goal and seven assists in 19 playoff games during the Calder Cup championship run.

"He works every day hard," Frk said. "For how small he is, he's really strong. I was surprised how strong he is. He's definitely a great guy off the ice, too, as well. He's a special player."

Hicketts, one of the final cuts in training camp, impressed the team with, among other things, his willingness to hit bigger players.

"Joe has a couple things I love," Blashill said. "He's got swagger and he's got a great brain for the game. I think we could use some of that swagger. We need a little more offense from our back end. He hasn't had an unreal year, production-wise, but certainly his point production last year as a rookie, his point production his last few years of juniors was great. He had a great training camp for us."

The Red Wings signed the undrafted Hicketts as a free agent in September 2014, following an impressive development camp and prospects tournament.

Blashill said Hicketts has a big heart.

"He's excelled at every level because of those things," Blashill said. "His skill-set doesn't scream NHL in terms of skating, size, body, all that, but he's proven people wrong his whole life. He was one of the best defensemen when he played for the Canadian World Junior team. He was out there for big moments, was a big piece of their Calder Cup championship team last year, and I think he brings stuff to the table that can help our team."