Most top Massachusetts-born prep school hockey players dream of playing for Boston College or Boston University after school. But Josh Hennessy wasn’t most prep school hockey players. He didn’t dream of college hockey, he dreamed of going straight to the pros.
Hennessy left Milton Prep as a 16-year-old to play for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and managed to finish seventh in QMJHL rookie scoring with 20 goals and 20 assists in 70 games, but he also finished a team-worst -26. After a solid sophomore season in the Q, 33 goals and 51 assists in 72 games, the San Jose Sharks drafted Hennessy with the 43rd pick of the 2003 NHL Draft, trading up with a package of picks to the New York Rangers to get him. His defense improved during his four seasons in the Q, but he also remained one of the Q’s most consistent offensive performers, tallying 82 points in 2003-04, a season limited to 59 games due to injury, and 85 points in 68 games in 2004-05.
The 20-year-old pivot has picked up where he left off now in the pros and has scored 14 goals and adding 19 assists in 49 games for the Cleveland Barons thus far in 2005-06, third in Barons scoring behind fellow rookie Steve Bernier and veteran AHLer Pat Rissmiller.
Hockey’s Future recently caught up with the speedy centerman and discussed his untraditional route to pro hockey as a New Englander, his success in the Q, his ongoing defensive development, his successful rookie pro season, and even a fellow Sharks prospect he knows well.
HF: Well, you’re from Massachusetts, what’s your reaction to the news that you guys will be playing in Worcester next year?
JH: Well, obviously, pretty happy about it. My family is pretty tired. It’s a win-win situation for me because, obviously, I want to move up to San Jose as soon as possible, but if you do need to spend more time in the American Hockey League, obviously you’d like it to be at home.
HF: How would you say your season has been in the AHL so far?
JH: I think it’s been a pretty smooth transition. I think that, probably one of the biggest strengths is my skating and that’s kind of helped me adjust, because there’s been more room than I guess there has been in years past in the pro game. I was fortunate to be part of an organization with a young farm team, and because of that I get to play in every situation and get a ton of ice time, which has really helped me.
HF: Do you feel it’s the sort of situation where even though you guys do have a young team and you might lose more than the more experienced teams, it gets you more experience in different situations? Do you think that counterbalances it?
JH: In certain ways yes. Obviously, it’s more fun to be part of a team that wins, but we have still have a really talented team. We’ve beat, at least on one occasion, most of the teams we’ve played, but consistency has been a little bit of a problem. But it’s kind of fun to be part of a team that’s young and that has the potential to beat anybody any night.
HF: How would you say the AHL compares to the Q?
JH: It’s definitely a big, big jump. It’s guys that are bigger and stronger, you don’t have much time. It’s pro to junior, what most of the guys would say, it is a big adjustment.
HF: How has it been playing with Steve Bernier and Patrick Rissmiller?
JH: It’s been fun. [Rissmiller’s] from Massachusetts,
but he’s been on this team for a while. He’s pretty
young himself, but he’s one of our more veteran guys,
so that’s been helpful. And Steve I knew well from
playing against in the Quebec League and he’s a big
power forward who opens up space for a lot of guys.
HF: You played prep school at Milton and then moved on to the Q, which is not a direction a lot of players go, tell me about that decision.
JH: It was basically just kind of starting a course that I’m still on right now. I would be, had I stayed at Milton, a sophomore, it’d be my sophomore year at college this year. I already have 40 plus games of pro experience under my belt and I feel like I’m developing pretty well. I’m where I want to be at. This is basically where I wanted to be in the future when I made that decision.
HF: We discussed the jump from the Q to the A, what was the jump like from prep to the Q?
JH: It was maybe even bigger, especially as a 16-year-old. Being an American I don’t think had anything to do with it being a difficult transition at all. I was very well accepted, and that also was a pretty smooth transition. That worked out wonderfully. I got to spend all years with the same organization, they treated me very well, and I got drafted pretty high and signed a pro contract. So, things have gone as planned so far.
HF: What kind of cultural transition did you face moving from Massachusetts to French-speaking Quebec?
JH: It was just more fun and interesting than anything else. I wouldn’t say it was difficult, because I was so well-accepted. The people there are so passionate about their hockey that if you can play hockey, you’re pretty well accepted from the get-go.
HF: What are some of your favorite memories from the Remparts?
JH: My draft year we hosted the Memorial Cup, which was a pretty cool experience. We weren’t as successful as we would have liked to have been, but it was definitely a good experience to get to play against the best teams from the other leagues, and it was good exposure leading into the draft. Aside from that, I’d say more the players and the people. I was never fortunate enough to win a championship there, but two of the years I was there we had pretty strong teams and made pretty decent runs.
HF: Staying on 2003 as a topic, what was the emotional reaction when you’d learned San Jose had drafted you in the second round and had drafted up to get you?
JH: I was obviously very excited. I knew they were an organization with maybe somewhat of a history of drafting guys from Massachusetts, from my area, so I can’t say that I was completely surprised. My interview with them, I thought, had gone pretty well at the combine and everything. I was just basically excited to be drafted.
HF: What sort of improvements did you make to your game while you were playing in the Quebec League?
JH: I’d have to say everything. The biggest thing, my first year I was in the minus-20’s on a decent team, and I was far and away the worst on the team. The defensive game was something I was kind of oblivious to before. I slowly developed that, and that’s something that I’m still working on. It’s definitely a process. I think it’s an offensive league, and I think a lot of the guys come out of the Quebec League, because it’s a run and gun style, have a little bit of an adjustment to make to the pro game.
HF: Did you ever feel any disappointment that Team USA didn’t call upon you for the World Junior Championships?
JH: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s pretty natural. I went to the camp twice, and twice, unfortunately, didn’t make the team, which was definitely frustrating, because it’s definitely something every junior player wants to be a part of.
HF: What are the improvements you’ve made in the American League already this season?
JH: Just consistency, learning to try to be consistent every shift, because there’s so many guys around you that have as much skill as you do. You’re not going to get the ice time if you’re not playing a well-rounded game. It’s not just trying to get points, you really have to play a more detailed game, and that’s what I’ve been working on already.
HF: You already mentioned your speed already, what do you feel are some of your other strengths and also some of your weaknesses?
JH: I think I’m definitely and offensive guy. I’m a guy that whatever team I play on is going to be able to contribute offensively and put up some decent numbers. I’d have to say skating and playmaking are the things I pride myself on. Some weaknesses, like I said, just being consistent about details, something that coach has stressed with me this year. Playing without the puck, everything that entails playing without the puck, is what I’ve really focused on.
HF: You’ve played in a few Shark training camps, how have those benefited you?
JH: I think the last one went very well. It was definitely an eye-opening experience. My first couple camps didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked them to. You go in there with the highest expectations and you work hard all summer, but this time I was happy to go in there with a contract, and it made a big difference knowing that I was going to be part of the organization, that I could really start chipping away at eventually making the roster.
HF: You played with another Shark prospect, drafted this year, Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, tell me about him.
JH: He’s awesome. I think people are really going to be pleasantly surprised. He was a little bit of a sleeper, but I wasn’t surprised at all. Some people were surprised to see him get drafted so high, I could even have seen him going higher. He’s a guy that, playing with him, you really appreciate him. It’s pretty amazing, he went from actually originally getting cut as a 16-year-old from our team to the end of that same season being called back up and being, pretty much, our best defenseman. Last year I’d have to say he was our best defenseman. So, it wasn’t something that surprised me at all. He played really well at the rookie tournament. He’s a pretty good friend of mine, so I’m really happy for him. He’s going to be a really good player.
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