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Draft snubs continue to motivate Kichton to 'prove people wrong'

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TORONTO -- Is a seventh-round draft pick going to surprise all the experts by making it to the NHL?

If you're talking about St. John's IceCaps defenceman Brenden Kichton, don't go by his draft status.

And never lose sight of the fact the 21-year-old native of Spruce Grove, Alta., is thinking about that very thing every day.

"I'm just here to prove people wrong. The Islanders, they didn't sign me," said Kichton, drafted by the Islanders in the fifth round in 2011 but not signed, then drafted by the Jets last summer in the seventh round. "It bugs me every day.

"And it's not just the Islanders, it's teams that passed me. I was drafted again in the seventh round so a lot of teams passed on me for every round to then. But the Jets gave me an opportunity and I'm out here to prove everyone wrong."

Kichton has put some proof on the table so far as an American Hockey League rookie.

Sunday, even though his St. John's IceCaps outplayed the Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum, the result was a 3-2 defeat. But not before Kichton had his sixth goal and 16th assist of the season. The points are fourth among all AHL defencemen and no rookie blueliner has more.

The offence, that's what was expected.

What wasn't expected was his defensive ability and awareness. Kichton is not only a plus player this season, his coach, Keith McCambridge, is among the converted.

"We knew he'd have offence but we thought there would be give and take and the take would be poor defensive play," McCambridge said about the WHL's defenceman of the year in 2012-13. "That's not the case."

Has McCambridge looked at Kichton in the first 29 games of the AHL season and wondered: Is the NHL in the cards?

"I do think like that," the coach said Sunday. "Can he play in the NHL? He's closer to answering that question as 'yes' in my mind than he was when we just got him in training camp.

"For a first-year player coming out of junior, that's a good thing. He's still a young player, gaining experience, but we've been really pleased with him. He's been a pleasant surprise."

Kichton said all the usual things about adjusting to the pro game after junior, but thinks it's actually helped him.

"Guys are a lot faster, stronger and the speed of the game is more but on the other hand, guys know where they need to be and they make a lot more plays than junior," he said Sunday. "So it's fun to play with these guys. They've done a lot to help me start off good."

Being good on offence and defence has given McCambridge one less thing to worry about, and that's a big plus if you're in the coaching business.

"It's really odd for an offensive defenceman not to have to find a guy to balance him, who will stay at home for him," McCambridge said. "That has not been a factor. He's been able to defend well, he's at times been matched up against other teams' top lines. We're comfortable with that. He's been reliable."

Kichton seems more mature than many pro rookies. And he's not afraid to say he's keeping his eyes and ears open, even for things going on with the Jets in Winnipeg.

"Obviously I'm watching," he said. "Even when I played my exhibition game I could see how they acted, how calm and poised they are. I think they're a pretty good team... and good things are happening."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 16, 2013 C3

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