“He did everything for us,” says Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz. “He not only led us in points and generated a lot of offense for us, but we also used him in every situation and always matched him up against other team’s top players and most times than not he came out on top of those battles. And he was our captain this past year and was great in the room. He’s a player every coach wants on his team.”
When all was said and done, Kichton’s last year in Spokane was one for the history books. He beat out Toronto Maple Leafs fifth-overall draft pick Morgan Rielly to win the Western Hockey League’s Defenceman of the Year award following leading all blueliners in points with 22 goals and 85 points in 71 games.
“I’m definitely happy with how my year went,” says Kichton. “I wanted to finish out my junior career with a good season and I accomplished that.”
Kichton’s overage season wasn’t his breakout year in the Dub. That season came when he was 18 in 2010-11 as he scored 23 goals and 81 points in 64 games after only managing to muster 19 points the year before. The Spruce Grove, Alta., native doesn’t believe he is a late bloomer, though.
“A lot of people call me a late bloomer, but I don’t think that’s right,” says Kichton, who turned 21 in June. “I just never had the opportunity to put up big points in my first two years in Spokane. I mainly sat on the bench those years. In my third year I got the opportunity and that’s when I started to really make an impact.”
You would assume the New York Islanders, who drafted Kichton 127th overall in 2011, would be chomping at the bit to get their prized defensive prospect under contract; however, that wasn’t the case at all. Islanders GM Garth Snow didn’t even make the 6-foot, 195-pound Kichton an offer this year after he turned down the Islanders’ first offer in the summer of 2012.
“I was surprised they didn’t make another offer,” says Kichton. “You could say they low-balled me last year. It wasn’t what me or my agent were looking for, so we turned it down.”
The Chiefs’ architect was taken even more off guard than Kichton when the Islanders didn’t send a second contract his way.
“I’m not sure what more he could do to earn that contract,” says Speltz. “I was very surprised the Islanders didn’t sign him. They drafted him with a fifth-round pick and he accomplished way more than what most players drafted in that round do.”
It’s not that surprising to see the Islanders make a puzzling move. Their GM did, after all, offer all of his draft picks in 2012 to move up two spots to the second pick. Luckily for Islanders fans, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson declined the offer. Not to mention, Snow rushed Nino Niederreiter, his fifth overall pick in 2010, into The Show as a 19-year-old just to send him down to the AHL the following year. He later traded Niederreiter, who he drafted over Carolina Hurricanes star Jeff Skinner, to the Minnesota Wild for 25-year-old Cal Clutterbuck, who scored 10 points this year, and a third-round pick.
Placed back into the 2013 NHL entry draft, the Winnipeg Jets selected Kichton in the seventh round. With hindsight vision, Kichton is ‘happy’ the Islanders didn’t sign him.
“I’m really happy to be a part of the Jets organization,” says Kichton. “They wanted me and I am happy they did. I wanted to sign with the Islanders, but since they didn’t offer me another contract and the Jets drafted me, I’m happy how everything worked out.”
Not many seventh-round picks turn out. But then again, not many seventh-round picks score three consecutive 70-plus point seasons from the back end. Kichton hopes the chip on his shoulder from Snow snubbing him will help him develop into an NHL-calibre player and prove the Islanders wrong.
“I want to prove them wrong,” says Kichton. “You never want to be doubted and I guess they didn’t believe in me. I’m going to Jets camp on July 14 and I want to make an impression and go on to have a good career with them.”
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzng the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen