As a late-round draft pick the New Jersey Devils fan base might not have lofty expectations for defenseman Matthew Hellickson like they do for defenseman Ty Smith who was taken in the first round (2018/17th overall), but that doesn’t mean that Hellickson can’t have an impactful NHL career. Just within their own franchise, the Devils have uncovered a hidden gem in Jesper Bratt who they nabbed in the sixth round (162nd overall) of the 2016 NHL Draft.
Late Round Value Abound
Hellickson was taken in the seventh round of the 2017 NHL Draft (214th overall) and there is certainly some value to be found in that round as history has shown us. Other notable NHLers taken in the seventh round include some names you may be familiar with: Joe Pavelski, Pekka Rinne, Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Lundqvist, and Dustin Byfuglien.
The Devils defensive prospect has been honing his craft at the NCAA level the past two seasons with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and recently attended his first summer Development Camp in New Jersey, getting a glimpse of what it means and what it takes to be a professional hockey player. During his two years at South Bend, Hellickson’s team has compiled a 51-24-5 record and they advanced to the NCAA Title Game during his freshman season where his team lost to fellow Devils prospect Joey Anderson and the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
The 21-year-old from Rogers, Minnesota has played in all 80 games for the Fighting Irish and has put up 28 points (7g-21a). Now entering his junior season he will be leaned on more as one of the elder players on the roster and the experience gained at the Devils camp should help him become a better player.
Following the scrimmage that concluded the week-long Development Camp The Hockey Writers spoke with Hellickson to get some insight on how he feels his collegiate career has gone, what his first taste of pro hockey was like, how difficult it is to defend against Jack Hughes, and more.
First Time Camper
The Hockey Writers: This is your first time at the annual Development Camp that the Devils host, what has the experience been like for you?
Matthew Hellickson: It’s been incredible. Not being here the first two years it was tough, one of my best friends from back home – Joey Anderson – has been here and I’ve been itching to get out here with him. It’s been great and it’s the first time I’ve realized what it takes to make it to the next level. It’s super fun playing against these guys that have some experience in the NHL and AHL too. I had a great week overall and I think I learned so much, plus had a really good time on the ice. A great experience, and a great week overall.
THW: So it’s safe to say that you’ve picked Joey’s brain about what goes on at these things?
MH: Yeah definitely. He and I are really close, so it was awesome that I got to hang out with him a lot this week. A couple of Chipotle meals shared together (grins). Just picking his brain about what it takes and the work that has to be put in, not to just stay here but to make it to the highest level you can in the NHL.
Irish Eyes Are Smiling
THW: For fans that didn’t get to see you play what was your sophomore season like at Notre Dame?
MH: My season was solid last year. I had a really good freshman year, and I had a good sophomore year, but I’m really looking forward to this upcoming season. I really like our team and I think we have a lot of great talent coming in. I’m not just excited for myself, but our team as a whole.
THW: The Fighting Irish have been able to go really far the last two seasons, how can you guys replicate that success again?
MH: It starts with the culture that we have at Notre Dame, everything starts there and that’s the same thing that these guys have been talking about all week here in New Jersey, and I think that’s true for Notre Dame as well. The daily habits, practicing hard every day; if we get all of the young guys to trust the process right away, and we all believe in the same goal I think we can go far again this year.
THW: You got to do a lot of team-bonding stuff off the ice this week, what was your favorite part of that aspect?
MH: It was all so much fun. Going to New York City for sure, hands down. I’ve always wanted to go to New York and when I looked at the itinerary when we first got here and saw that, and we were going to a New York Yankees game. I was ecstatic about that. Yesterday was incredible. Kind of living the dream almost. Hanging out with the guys, you feel like you’re on the team almost. All of the perks – we were in the party suite (grins), free food and hanging with the boys and enjoying a nice Yankees game. Definitely my favorite part of the week.
THW: What’s it been like having to defend against this fella named Jack Hughes?
MH: It’s fun. Definitely a little intimidating. But he’s a great kid, a great hockey player too. It’s challenging, but it’s great because he makes me better and I try to help make him better too.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.