Thomas Hickey played in the Islanders’ first 32 games and had been a regular in the lineup since arriving in the lockout-shortened 2013 season.
But the defenseman did a lot of watching after suffering a head injury Dec. 17 and was a spectator for all of the Islanders’ four-game sweep of the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
Now he’s expected to get a chance to reclaim his lineup spot. Johnny Boychuk will be out three to four weeks after blocking a shot with his left leg in Tuesday night’s 3-1 win in Game 4 in Pittsburgh.
“He’s one of my best friends here. That’s tough news,” Hickey said Friday in East Meadow as the Islanders resumed practicing after the players had two days off. “But we’ve got big goals, big aspirations, and if someone is not getting bumped and bruised and a little banged up, we’re probably not getting to that point.”
“Any time you lose a regular, it’s a loss, but fortunately for us, we have the depth at defense and players are ready and it gives an opportunity to another player,” president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said. “It’s not unexpected. These things happen.”
Coach Barry Trotz mentioned both Hickey and Luca Sbisa, who played for the expansion Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Final last season against Trotz’s Capitals, as the candidates to replace Boychuk.
Boychuk, who had an assist in four games against the Penguins, had six goals and 12 assists in 74 games during the regular season. He won the Cup with the Bruins in 2011. Trotz relies on him heavily in the third period, and his leadership voice is one of the louder ones in the dressing room.
“Johnny has been very good for me this year, both on the ice and off the ice,” goalie Robin Lehner said. “When he’s out there, he does all the little things that you guys don’t really report on and don’t always see. Me, as a goalie, I see it. He puts his face in front of pucks on a nightly basis. He’s a true defense-first guy that really lays it out for our team.”
The 6-foot, 183-pound Hickey is smaller than the 6-2, 227-pound Boychuk but has the same dogged competitive streak.
Rookie Devon Toews took Hickey’s spot in the lineup after being recalled from Bridgeport as Hickey missed 29 games with the head injury. Hickey returned Feb. 26 but was a healthy scratch the next six games. He then had a six-game stint in the lineup before playing in one of the last eight games.
“Three weeks in between games is difficult, but I think each time I came back, my first game, I did well,” said Hickey, who last dressed for a game on April 4. “I love playoff hockey, so for me to jump back in, I’d rather be doing this than in a regular-season game. It’s a nice motivation and a nice opportunity. I’ve been wanting to get in since Game 1, so I’m ready. I’ve got no excuses. I’ve been looking forward to this.”
The Islanders are awaiting the winner of the Capitals-Hurricanes series, which is tied at two games apiece. There is a chance they won’t start their next series until next Friday or Saturday.
Notes & quotes: Right wing Cal Clutterbuck, who exited Game 4 with an unspecified injury, and defenseman Scott Mayfield did not practice Friday, but Lamoriello had a much more positive report on them. “They’ll be just maintenance days,” Lamoriello said. “While we’ve got this time, we’re going to give them a couple more days off, but they’re fine. ” . . . Goalie Ilya Sorokin, a third-round pick in 2014, was named the playoff MVP as he led CSKA Moscow to the KHL championship.