Brenden Kichton produced last season like few defensemen in the 26 years of the Spokane Chiefs.
Kichton became just the fourth Chiefs blueliner, and first in 17 seasons, to score at least 20 goals. His 23 goals and 58 assists gave him 81 points, one shy of the franchise record for a defenseman established by National Hockey League veteran Bryan McCabe in 1993-94.
For a little perspective, the Chiefs had three 100-point forwards that season, but had a losing record.
Kichton’s performance helped elevate the Chiefs from rebuilding mode to a 102-point season and came when the league had just four 100-point scorers, although one was teammate Tyler Johnson.
That’s going to be a tough act to follow for the 19-year-old from Spruce Grove, Alberta, a suburb of Edmonton.
But it’s an act that may not need repeating.
“I obviously don’t look at it from a point perspective,” Kichton said on the eve of what could be his final season in Spokane. “I’m looking to get my all-around game better, get better defensively, help my team win at all costs. If I do that, I know the points will come.”
Fewer points are fine, as long as the team, which plays the Tri-City Americans at the Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday in the home opener, doesn’t have a dropoff.
“I think this team has to work harder than the team last year. I think that team had a little more skill,” Kichton said. “Our structure has to be flawless and our work ethic has to be there. If we do that, we should be successful.”
That is Kichton’s focus, not what fans might think if his numbers don’t match up.
“That’s the last thing you worry about, what the fans think,” Kichton said. “Obviously, I know what they see, but I listen to the coaches, the general manager, my teammates. If we’re putting up wins, I don’t think fans will worry too much about how many points I score.”
Last year’s breakout season, which included a plus-55, tied for best in the league, to go with the 81 points, tied for the most by a league defenseman, led to the 6-foot, 190-pounder being selected by the New York Islanders in the fifth round of the June draft.
That could also increase pressure on Kichton to increase production.
“I’ve talked to him,” Chiefs coach Don Nachbaur said. “Any player who strives to play the right way, good things happen for you and the points follow suit.
“He was good in all areas of the game last year, but you still want to be better. That’s part of being an elite athlete, pushing yourself to excellence.”
Last season Kichton was the offensive defenseman while his partner, Jared Cowen, had the role of lockdown defenseman. Up front for the Chiefs were speedy and prolific Johnson and Levko Koper. But all three veteran leaders are gone.
“He’ll have a new role,” Nachbaur said. “Obviously, we still need him to make plays for us, be our quarterback, play key minutes, but we shouldn’t define him by how many points he makes.”
Kichton knew his chance was coming last season and prepared by shooting 300 pucks a day as part of his summer workout routine. That’s why he went from 19 points in his second year to being the John “Hitman” Hern Defenseman of the Year.
“We had an excellent group of defensemen when I was 16 and 17, which made it hard for me to get ice time,” said Kichton, who had nine points his rookie season. “I just had to make sure I got better each day and when it was my opportunity, I had to show what I can do, which I did. Now I have to keep it up.”
“I’m not worried about him at all,” Nachbaur said. “(Kichton) is a good player and good players always find a way to play their best. That’s all we’re asking. He might end up with 50 points this year and have a better year. He wants to be a more polished player in other areas.
“To be a stalwart defenseman in this league, there are three zones on the ice surface and he has to be adept at all three zones.”
And, it goes without saying, he needs to be a leader.
“I love it,” he said. “I like to lead by example, that’s always the main thing, but I’m not afraid to step up in the room and say something, whether it’s a game or practice.”
All the young guys – and right now the Chiefs have three rookies on the back end, including a pair of 16-year-olds – need to do is learn that Kichton story of biding his time.
“I tell them it’s a process,” he said. “I tell them look where I came from. The first year I hardly got to see the ice and look where I’ve came. For (Corbin Baldwin, a 20-year-old defenseman), it was the same thing.
“Be patient, practice hard every day, do what coaches say to do and it will all be pretty good.”