Brandon Hickey, with an assist from a Hockey Night in Canada commentator, clued in early that it was best for him to pursue college hockey.
The Boston University-bound blueliner who will likely merit second or third-round consideration in next week's NHL draft in Philadelphia credits his choice to the counsel he received from Craig Simpson, whose two sons also played NCAA Division I hockey. Hickey has shown good potential over his two seasons with the Spruce Grove Saints in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. The 18-year-old believes joining a young BU club will give him more time to build strength and mature.
"I'm good friends with Riley Simpson [a fellow Albertan who plays for Ohio State], older brother Dillon and dad Craig had a lot to do with me choosing NCAA just because of the experiences they had that they shared with me," says the 6-foot-1½, 177-pound Hickey, who is NHL Central Scouting Service's No. 63-ranked North American skater. "They developed into full-grown men in university. That had a big influence with me.
"The developmental curve is not as fast as the WHL or anywhere in the CHL," the Leduc, Alta., native adds. "It gives me longer time to develop, get some man strength, get a little bit thicker, stronger and faster."
While the Simpsons all played for teams in the Midwest, Hickey says he felt right at home after he first laid eyes on Boston U's campus. The Terriers are also in transition under second-year coach David Quinn, the successor to iconic Jack Parker. Being part of a recruiting class that also includes top 2015 NHL draft prospect Jack Eichel struck a chord with Hickey.
"I did one visit to Michigan State and I talked to a lot of schools and did a lot of research on the coaches and the strength coach," Hickey says. "When I went down there I fell in love with the school and the facilities they have. That had a lot do with the decision, including the freshman class they have coming in this year. It's a really good class. So I thought it would be nice to go in with that group.
"The rebuilding thing is key," adds the mobile defender, who met with 16 teams during the recent NHL combine. "You get to play a quite a bit your first year, it allows you to get used to that NCAA speed and pace faster than you would on a team which is quite strong with a lot older players."
To this point, Hickey has applied his quick feet more to being agile and staying in good position. He has the capability to show a greater offensive flair in the future. This season, Hickey tallied four goals and 22 points over 49 regular-season games while helping the Saints win the AJHL championship, capping his two productive seasons with coach Jason Mckee.
"I value his input and the way he's taught me," Hickey says of McKee, a former Michigan Tech and Seattle Thunderbirds defenceman. "He didn't beat around the bush. He told you straight out how it was and I love that about him."
Despite his solid draft stock, Hickey is foregoing attending the draft and putting family first.
"I'm going to stay home with my grandparents," he says. "They can't travel so I'll spend it with them."
1. Which NHl defenceman (or -men) do you study closely?
"I love watching [the Chicago Blackhawks'] Duncan Keith — the way he skates and moves the puck and the way he closes the gap. I try and model my game after him because of my skating ability. That's who I am striving to be like."
2. Where do you really need to demonstrate improvement over the next season or two?
"The big thing is I need to grow a little bit, I'm not heaviest or stronger guy. I would like to show a little more of the offensive side. Getting shots through from the point and joining the rush a little more."
3. Where is your favourite road rink in the AJHL?
"I'd say the Brooks Bandits' home rink. The atmosphere is crazy. Two seasons ago when we went to the final against them it was wild. They had people sitting in the aisles using noisemakers and you couldn't hear anything on the ice. It was so fun to play in."
4. How did you approach each interview at the combine?
"A lot of guys think you need to do something. I think you need to be who you are. If they don't like you, there's no point in being someone fake. Just going in and being myself was a priority for me."
5. No one can eat clean 100 per cent of the time; what's your guilty pleasure food?
"Nachos. Nachos are definitely my favourite snack."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.