Not every hockey player drafted in the first round goes straight into the NHL. Some head back to their respective junior team looking to build off of recent success, while others maybe head to the American Hockey League (AHL) to fine-tune their game and get into NHL-ready condition.
Drafted 17th overall at the 2010 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, forward Joey Hishon was a dynamic offensive hockey player putting up great numbers in the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the Owen Sound Attack.
Hishon returned to the OHL in the 2010-11 season and was in the midst of a career year – posting 37 goals and 50 assists in 50 games and adding 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) in 22 playoff games that spring until tragedy struck in a Memorial Cup game against the Kootenay Ice in 2011.
Hishon was bringing the puck up ice through the neutral zone and was elbowed in the head by defenseman Brayden McNabb, causing Hishon to lose his balance and tumble to the ice. He would go on to miss nearly two full years – 22 months – recovering from symptoms of a concussion that certainly created doubt as to whether he would ever play the game of hockey again.
“There were definitely some long nights where it was real tough to sleep,” Hishon told me earlier this month after a game against the Milwaukee Admirals. “You want to do everything you can to play hockey. When that’s taken away from you it’s very hard on you and you start to question whether you’ll ever be able to do it again and different stuff like that.”
Hishon got the best news of his life late in May of 2012 when he found out he would be able to lace up the skates and play professional hockey again, making his pro debut with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL on March 19th, 2013 against the Toronto Marlies. Unfortunately for Hishon, he incurred another concussion in his ninth pro game, again putting his career on hold.
“It’s definitely been a struggle and definitely more than anything a struggle mentally for me,” Hishon said. “To be here where I am right now, I try to focus on that.”
Hishon was back and ready for the start of the season last year and appeared in 50 AHL games with Lake Erie, registering 24 points (10 goals, 14 assists). On April 22nd, he was called up by the Avalanche during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, making his debut against the Minnesota Wild on April 24th.
“That was a crazy, crazy experience,” Hishon said of playing in the NHL’s postseason in his debut. “To be able to play those three games and contribute, that was awesome for me. That’s definitely where I want to get back to. It’s an unbelievable league and that’s why we’re here. We have to work hard and do everything we can to try and get up there.”
While Hishon appeared in three games with the Avalanche, he finds himself back in the AHL with Lake Erie at the start of this season with things to work on before he gets back to the NHL.
“I definitely think my defensive game needs to improve,” Hishon said. “I need to get stronger down low. I think that’s the case for a lot of us guys here, our defensive game needs to get better because up there if you are in the wrong position defensively they’ll score on you almost every single time. Learn that side of that game, which a lot of us didn’t have to focus on when we were younger because we were offensive players. We were able to get away with it, but not anymore. We have to focus on that and hopefully get up to the big leagues.”
“I had a decent year last year and I got 50 games in, but even there there’s some kinks I had to work through. This year, I’m feeling great so to build on that, play as many games as I can and help my team win will be huge for me moving forward.”
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