If only judging by his credentials, it’s not a surprise that Joey Hishon skated for the Avalanche on Thursday night in St. Paul.
A quick thumbnail sketch of the 5-foot-10, 170-pound forward paints a picture of a player who more than belongs on the Stanley Cup Playoffs stage, in Game 4 of the Avs’ Western Conference first-round matchup with the Wild.
Hishon was the Avalanche’s first selection (17th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft—taken a year after the club hit draft gold in Matt Duchene (1st, third), Ryan O’Reilly (2nd, 33rd) and Tyson Barrie (3rd, 64th)— after Hishon was voted the OHL’s “Best Stickhandler” and “Best Playmaker” in the 2008-09 season.
He wore Canada’s iconic maple leaf sweater during the 2009 IIHF World Under-18 Championship, too, and led the team in scoring with five goals and five assists in six games.
Some foot and knee injuries hampered his draft stock during the 2009 season, and some considered it a head scratcher when the Avalanche plucked him so early during the 2010 draft in Los Angeles.
“That’s off the board,” TSN’s Bob McKenzie exclaimed during the 2010 draft broadcast. “[He] had some injury problems … skill level is there; that’s obviously what they’re looking at. … We had him at No. 46 [ranked].”
Hishon made the pick look warranted, though, with 87 points in 50 games in the 2010-11 Ontario Hockey League regular season, helping his Owen Sound Attack into the 2011 Memorial Cup.
For some perspective, Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado’s current first-round pick, had 78 points last season in his final run through Canadian junior hockey, and everyone knows how that has played out.
It seemed in Hishon the Avs had added to their youthful future with back-to-back OHL home runs.
“I’m very good friends with them (Duchene and O’Reilly),” Hishon said in the aftermath of his 2010 selection. “[Denver is] an unbelievable town and unbelievable fans, and I can’t wait to get started.
“I’m probably one of the happiest kids in the world right now. It’s an unbelievable honor.”
So, what happened? Why is Hishon, four years removed from hearing his named called early on draft day and three years removed from a dynamite CHL season, just now making his NHL debut?
An elbow to the head in his first Memorial Cup game in 2011 knocked him out of the tournament and hockey for an astounding 22 months while he dealt with concussion-like symptoms.
He didn’t play again until March 2013, when he finally got on the ice for the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters. That put him in position to earn an NHL spot this year, but another injury knocked him out of training camp and landed him back with the Monsters.
“I definitely took a different road than most guys do,” Hishon said Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center. “I missed a lot of time, but I feel great right now, and I’m very excited to be here, and I’ll do whatever I can to help the team.”
In the short term that likely means helping an Avalanche power play that ranked sixth during the regular season with a 19.8 conversion rate (50-for-252) but was just 1-for-11 this series and 1-for-22 in eight games this year against the quick and defensive Wild.
“I just try and make players around me
better,” Hishon said. “Create as much offense as I can and at the same time be good and strong in my own end. That’s my game, and that’s what I’m going to try and continue to do.”
Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie was injured in a knee-on-knee collision in Monday’s Game 3 loss and will likely miss the rest of the playoffs. A quick roster swap, moving Ryan Wilson from forward back to defense and into Barrie’s void, created an opportunity for Hishon that has been nearly four years in the making.
“You don’t always pick the right time to start,” Roy said. “If it happens, it happens. This is an opportunity for him. Joey’s dream is to play in the NHL one day. Here it is.”
The Avalanche has had so much success this season utilizing players tossed aside by previous organizations, adding some contrast to the addition of Hishon.
Goaltender Semyon Varlamov and defenseman Erik Johnson could be thrown into that mix, too. They both were once traded to Colorado after the Capitals and Blues, respectively, grew tired of waiting on their development, and it can’t be stated enough how important both players are to this team.
In Hishon, the Avalanche has a player that much has been expected of for some time. The club’s patience with him has kept him on the road back to recovery.
“The Avalanche organization was great,” Hishon said during the Avs’ September training camp. “It was definitely a tough time but to have them on my side was unbelievable."
There were questions when his name was called at Staples Center in 2010, and there were likely some questions Tuesday morning when the Avalanche announced Hishon’s recall from Lake Erie.
He’s eager to finally answer both. He’s just eager to have a chance to answer both.
It looked for a long time like that would never come.
“I’ve done a lot of mental preparation and different things like that to be ready. The coaching staff and training staff down in Cleveland talks to you a lot and tries to keep as ready as you possible can be for a situation like this. I’m just going to try and have fun with it and enjoy the experience.”
The Avalanche's Ron Knabenbauer contributed to this story.
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