With a nagging injury keeping Zach Redmond sidelined on opening weekend, St. John’s IceCaps rookie defenceman Brenden Kichton made the most of his opportunity to jump in and play the role of offensive defenceman against the Providence Bruins.
© Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
St. John’s IceCaps’ defenceman Brenden Kichton (left) moves the puck up ice as IceCaps’ goalie Eddie Pasquale (40) untangles himself from St. John’s teammate Ben Chiarot after Chiarot was knocked flying, bowling over Pasquale and dislodging the net, during AHL action at Mile One Centre Saturday night. Kichton had a goal and an assist as the IceCaps won 5-1, giving them three of a possible four points from two season-opening games against the Bruins.
The 21-year-old from Spruce Grove, Alta,. collected three points over the weekend, including the game-winning goal and an assist in Saturday night’s 5-1 victory in his American Hockey League series debut.
He got his first pro point when he collected a helper on JC Lipon’s goal on opening-night Friday, which saw Providence come away with a 4-3 overtime victory.
“It’s definitely a transition process from junior, but I feel great with the way I’m playing and hope to keep it going,” Kichton said following Saturday’s contest.
Kichton arrived in Winnipeg’s camp with solid credentials, after winning the Western Hockey League’s top defenceman award as an overager last season with the Spokane Chiefs.
Kichton scored 22 goals and 85 points in 71 games with the Chief in 2012-13.
“It’s one of the main reasons we drafted him, because he’s an offensive defenceman, someone who can help on the power play and can help in the organization from a depth perspective,” IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge said.
On Friday night, Kichton shared playing time with fourth-year pro Jordan Hill and third-year D-man Ben Chiarot, but was paired primarily with Hill Saturday.
Like any graduate of the junior ranks, Kichton said the size of the players and the speed of the game are the biggest differences between the WHL and AHL.
But Kichton didn’t appear to miss a beat, fitting in nicely amongst the St. John’s starting six.
“If you’re positionally sound, you should not have too much trouble,” he said.
“In junior, the play is a lot more scrambly, so guys aren’t always in the right position. But here, guys will be in the right position. The practices are more crisp and when you’re out there, everyone knows how to do their job and that’s what makes better hockey.”
Saturday, Eric O’Dell scored his third career hat trick and Jerome Samson had a goal and two assists for the IceCaps. Joe Morrow had the Providence goal.
Eddie Pasquale, making the second of what will probably be many starts this season, made 36 saves. Rookie Malcolm Subban was busy in the Bruins’ goal, facing 39 shots.
The IceCaps dropped a heart-breaker Friday night, the first time in their brief three years history St. John’s kicked off the season at home.
With the Bruins leading 3-1 and just over seven minutes to go in regulation time, Lipon scored his first pro goal at 18:11, and O’Dell tied it with 57 seconds left in the period.
Then, in overtime, St. John’s defenceman Will O’Neill uncorked a shot from the Providence blueline, only to see his stick snap in half.
The Bruins picked up the stray puck, went the other way and Johnson beat Pasquale 2:04 into the extra session.
Kichton finished Friday’s game at plus-one and was even in Saturday’s win.
“It’s a good opportunity for him to jump in and play in key situations, power plays and when we’re down and chasing games,” McCambridge said of Kichton.
“It’s a good opportunity for him to prosper and show why he put up the numbers he did in the Western league.
“But he’s shown other parts of his game, too. Defensively, he’s smart and knows where he needs to be on the ice. And there’s an edge to him with regards to blocking shots.
“I like where Brenden’s game is right now. I thought he had two really strong games and that’s quite a feather for a first-year pro.”
Kichton was originally drafted in the fifth round, 127th overall, by the New York Islanders. When the two sides failed to come to a contract agreement — “There’s a glut of defenceman in New York, and they didn’t really see the potential in me … we weren’t really feeling it back from them that they appreciated the way I played” — Kichton re-entered the 2013 draft and was grabbed in the seventh round, 190th by Winnipeg.
Perhaps one of the reasons the Isles failed to sign him, and he lasted until the 21st pick before the end of the draft last June lies the fact he’s very generously listed at 6-0, and his skating might not yet be up to NHL snuff.
His expression alone leads one to believe Kichton’s heard it all before when the subject is broached. He admits there’s work to be done, but he employs a skating coach in the off-season and says he’s been showing steady improvement.
And McCambridge certainly doesn’t feel Kichton’s feet are a deal-breaker in terms of success at the pro level.
“That side of his game will continue to blossom,” McCambridge said. “For him, it’s just a matter of adjusting to the speed level. He’s only going to get quicker and quicker.
“He’s a first-year pro, and it’s his first two games. The players you play with and against only help you get quicker and faster. He’s young, so there’s still a lot of development left in him.”
The IceCaps’ defence corps will get a shot in the arm this week with the arrival of Adam Pardy from Winnipeg (see accompanying story), and Redmond could be ready to go when St. John’s plays its next games, Friday and Saturday in Hamilton and Toronto.
The IceCaps are home again in two weeks time when the Hershey Bears visit Mile One Centre.