ON THE HORIZON – Brenden Kichton, D, Spokane (WHL)

Like many of Canada’s youth, defenseman Brenden Kichton began toying with the sport of hockey on the ponds of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Under the tutelage of his figure-skating mother, Kichton learned the basics of skating and in turn instantly fell in love with Canada’s national sport. More than a decade later, Kichton is lighting the lamp in the Western Hockey League and making a serious case to being mentioned among the next crop of Islander blue-liners.

“I started skating at five years old,” said the six-foot, 190-pound Kichton, who was selected by the Islanders in the fifth round – 127th overall – in this past June’s NHL draft in Minnesota. “I would always wait for the pond in our backyard to freeze.”

Kichton is currently in his fourth season playing for the Spokane Chiefs yet his ascension to earning top-pairing minutes for second-year head coach Don Nachbaur and the Chiefs was definitely a prolonged process.

“It took me a little while to get my opportunity,” said the 19 year-old Kichton. “I played behind great players such as (former Islander draft pick and current Minnesota Wild defenseman) Jared Spurgeon and (current Ottawa Senator defenseman) Jared Cowen.

“It was definitely a learning process.”

In his first two seasons at Spokane, Kichton only registered 28 points – five goals and 23 assists – in 127 games.

Nevertheless, Kichton remained patient and that persistence would pay major dividends following the 2009-10 campaign in Spokane. He attended the Detroit Red Wings prospect camp during the summer of 2010, and quickly noticed that he belonged.

“Going to Detroit was definitely an eye-opener for me,” said Kichton. “I saw that I could play with those guys. Even the speed of the game wasn’t a problem.”

Despite breaking his hand at the tail end of the prospect camp, Kichton returned to Spokane for the 2010-11 campaign a more confident hockey player. Statistically, he reached levels only exceeded by one former Chief – a name quite familiar to Islander fans.

In 64 games, Kichton netted 23 goals and assisted on 58 others. His 81 points fell one short of the Chiefs’ all-time single-season record for a blue-liner. That record is held by former New York Islander draftee Bryan McCabe, whose 82 points came in the 1993-94 season.

“I felt like I was given the opportunity to show what I was made of,” said Kichton, whose scoring prowess helped the Chiefs reach the WHL Western Conference Finals before bowing out to Islander top prospect Nino Niederreiter and the Portland Winterhawks in six games. “(Coach) Don (Nachbaur) put his trust in me to play with Jared (Cowen).

“It resulted in me being extremely confident with the puck.”

Nachbaur concurred.

“When I got here, there was a huge turnover in the roster,” said Nachbaur, whose coaching career spans nearly two decades. “I knew that Kich was playing behind five or six 19 year-olds the previous year, when he was 17. I thought that if I paired him with (Jared) Cowen, it would be a good fit.

“They complemented each other extremely well.”

Nachbaur earned his third WHL coach of the year honors with the 2010-11 Chiefs. He had previously been bestowed those honors with the 1994-95 Seattle Thunderbirds, followed by the 2007-08 Tri City Americans.

Kichton’s break-out season quickly drew the eye of NHL scouts, as this past summer’s entry draft approached.

“I expected to be drafted,” said Kichton. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to go in the second round or the sixth round.”

Before entering his final season in Spokane, Kichton took a quick detour and participated in his first Islanders Blue-White Scrimmage in Uniondale in July. The experience gave Kichton a keen perspective on what he would need to build on and improve on in hopes of making Long Island a full time residence for him.

“I definitely had a lot of nerves playing in the Scrimmage,” said Kichton. “But after I spoke to (Islander scout) Eric Cairns, he made me feel very comfortable.

“It made me excited to show the Islanders organization and their fans what I could bring forward in the future.”

With an aim on delivering a Chynoweth Cup to the city of Spokane, Kichton also hoped that his final season in the ‘W’ would be one to continue and develop his all-around game.

“My vision and my all-around defensive play are my strengths,” said Kichton, who models his play after both San Jose Shark defenseman Dan Boyle and former New Jersey Devil defenseman Brian Rafalski, due to their playmaking skills despite not being overall “big” guys. “I know that in order to make it to the next level, my agility has to improve.”

From the season’s opening face-off, Kichton’s play has not tapered off from last season. He has continued to be a point-per-game performer, despite not having Cowen playing alongside him.

Kichton has scored six goals and assisted on 23 others in the team’s first 27 games. He is currently third among WHL defensemen in scoring. His all-around play has also been recognized by Hockey Canada. Kichton was one of 41 players recently invited to compete for a coveted slot in this winter’s World Junior Championships. The tournament begins on Boxing Day in Calgary and Edmonton.

“Kich has a great work ethic and he continues to get the job done for us,” said Nachbaur, who has had the privilege of coaching former Islander defenseman Brendan Witt, along with current Calgary Flames defenseman Cory Sarich and Minnesota Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner during his coaching tenure. “It’s all up to him whether he gets to the next level.

“He knows that he has to hit the ice like a pro and the gym like a pro.”

Kichton is ready for the challenge ahead.

“I would love to play in Bridgeport next season,” said Kichton. “I would love to prove to the Islanders organization that I can be a defenseman who could contribute both offensively and defensively.

“Hopefully, I will be there to lead them to a Cup.”

Off the ice, Kichton enjoys fishing, golfing and watching other sports. He is a huge fan of Tom Brady and the Patriots, and despite growing up in Western Canada, he lists the New York Mets as his favorite baseball team.

“When I was in New York in the summer, we (the prospects) got to see a game at Citi Field,” said Kichton. “It was awesome.”

With hopes of signing an entry level contract with the Islanders at season’s end, Kichton might be able to call an arena adjacent to Citi Field home in the not-so-distant future.

Only time will tell.