(Photo via theathletic.com)

Former Victoria Royals captain Joe Hicketts has been called up to the Detroit Red Wings, and is expected to play Monday night against the New Jersey Devils.

Hicketts will become the first ever Royals alumnus to play in a National Hockey League contest.

Blazing a trail in Royals history is nothing new for Hicketts. He was the team’s first ever selection in the WHL Bantam Draft after being chosen 12th overall in 2011, and after two seasons would eventually become the first Royals-drafted player to captain the club.

He would also become the first Royal to represent Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, winning gold in 2015 and being named an assistant captain for the 2016 tournament.

A competitive spirit

With World Junior gold and a prosperous WHL career that saw him score 32 goals an 173 points in 224 games, the undrafted product of Kamloops earned an NHL contract after impressing in rookie camp as an 18-year old invite.

“He’s got a big heart, big compete. He’s excelled at every level because of those things,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told NHL.com. “His skill-set doesn’t scream NHL in terms of skating, size, body, all that, but he’s proven people wrong his whole life. He was one of the best defensemen when he played for the Canadian World Junior team.”

Listed generously at 5’8″, Hicketts has been facing critics his entire life. But with a great sense for the game, a calm confidence and a fierce determination, he’s never stopped improving.

“He works every day hard. For how small he is, he’s really strong. I was surprised how strong he is,” Red Wings forward Martin Frk said, who played with Hicketts in the AHL. “He’s definitely a great guy off the ice, too, as well. He’s a special player.”

The 21-year-old was instrumental in helping the Grand Rapids Griffins win the Calder Cup last year as league champions. Hicketts scored 7 goals and 34 points from the blue line during the regular season, and contributed a goal and 8 points in their championship run.

This season hasn’t been as notable from an offensive point of view, with just 8 points in 43 games, but Red Wings brass obviously likes what they see.

Once he makes his debut, he will join former Montreal Canadiens defender Francis Bouillon as the only two defensemen to play in the NHL standing 5’8 tall since 2005.

The Red Wings play the New Jersey Devils Monday night at 4pm, and the game can be found on Sportsnet Ontario.