PHILADELPHIA — Thomas Hickey leaned into the slap shot from the left point and the puck navigated its way through traffic before trickling through the pads of Flyers goalie Brian Elliott for the Islanders’ first goal of the preseason.
But the harsh reality is that Hickey might not secure a regular spot in the lineup regardless of how well he plays in the preseason. He ended last season as the seventh defenseman after a head injury sidelined him from Dec. 18-Feb. 26, allowing for rookie Devon Toews’ emergence.
“I think everything is up to interpretation, from the talks I’ve had,” Hickey said before the Islanders opened their seven-game preseason schedule with a 3-1 win at Wells Fargo Center on Monday night. “I had a tough injury. At the end of the year, I was in a spot that I didn’t like, that nobody likes. At the same time, I understood it.”
Hickey, 30, finished with no goals and four assists in 40 games, then stepped in for an injured Johnny Boychuk in the Hurricanes’ four-game sweep of the Islanders in the second round of the playoffs.
He is one of seven returning defensemen from last season under contract. Prospects Noah Dobson and Sebastian Aho, among others, also are likely to get long looks.
“You just do the best job you can, you control the things you can control,” Hickey said. “I’m educated in what we have on our team. I want a bigger piece of things. It’s my job to go out and get it.”
“We have some defensive depth,” coach Barry Trotz added. “It makes it harder and harder on the veterans when you’ve got young guys coming up. That’s pro sports.”
Hickey and Scott Mayfield — along with Luca Sbisa, in training camp on a professional tryout offer — were the three veteran defensemen in Monday’s lineup.
Trotz paired Hickey with undrafted free agent Grant Hutton and used him on the top penalty kill unit as well as on the point for the five-on-four and five-on-three power plays.
“Absolutely there’s something for me to prove,” Hickey said. “I had these coaches for a whole year but I feel like I only played for half a year. It still feels like I have things to show them.”
Notes & quotes: Starting goalie Semyon Varlamov was sharp in allowing one goal on eight shots in 30:13. Christopher Gibson stopped all 15 shots he faced . . . Sbisa’s unassisted power-play goal was the winner at 2:24 of the third period. Erik Brown added a power-play empty-netter with 50.7 seconds remaining . . . Forward Colin McDonald, who spent the past three seasons in the Flyers’ organization, returned in the second period after blocking Justin Braun’s first-period slap shot and crawling to the bench. “In the preseason, beggars can’t be choosers when you’re getting a game,” McDonald said . . . Forward Tom Kuhnhackl (lower body) skated with teammates for the first time in training camp with a non-game group in East Meadow . . . The Islanders will face the Flyers on Tuesday night at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. Trotz said no player will dress on back-to-back nights.