Joey Hishon could barely even think about playing in his first NHL game as he was 'thrown into the fire,' as the saying goes. That 'fire' was the middle of the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup playoff series last season against the Minnesota Wild.
“I think the way it happened was actually really good for me because I didn't have too much time to think about it and get nervous about it," Hishon said. "I was just kind of thrown right in and put in some key situations on the power play and what not, and I was able to contribute in the seventh game there."
Hishon made his NHL debut on April 24, 2014 in Game 4 in Minnesota and played in three of the final four contests of the series, picking up his first point (an assist) in Game 7. The Stratford, Ontario native is only the second player in Avalanche/Nordiques history to play his first NHL game with the team in the playoffs, joining Randy Moller in 1981-82, and is the only player in the franchise's annals to have played in the league without appearing in a regular-season contest.
That last note might soon change as the Avalanche recalled the 23-year-old late Monday, setting the stage for him to make his NHL regular-season debut in the near future.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound center's development as a professional player has been sidetracked a bit the past couple years as he's been dogged by injuries, most notably a head injury that kept him away from the game for nearly two years. Hishon was hurt during the first game of the 2011 Memorial Cup and later dealt with serious post-concussion problems, forcing him to miss all of 2011-12 and most of 2012-13 as well.
The Avs' 2010 first-round draft selection (No. 17 overall) finally played his first full professional campaign last season, tallying 24 points (10 goals and 14 assists) in 50 American Hockey League contests and entered last fall's training camp having had the best summer of training in his hockey career.
"This summer I really focused on my nutrition and training a lot more than in any other year, and it's really paid off," said Hishon after his first practice with club on Tuesday.
"I've had my best year in a pro season, health wise. I think it definitely has stuff to do with my physical strength and what not. Playing against older guys, everyone is so much stronger and you have to stay on top of that."
His best summer resulted in his best camp, as he was one of the last players reassigned from the NHL roster. He has built on that preseason success with a solid regular season, leading the Monsters in scoring with 32 points (14 goals and 18 assists) after his first 50 games.
As he joins the Avalanche roster this time around, he'll again have some familiar faces in Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly to help with the transition. The trio has been in the Avs organization together for now five seasons but has known each other for much longer than that.
“We grew up all playing against each other and playing with each other on different under-17 and under-18 teams," Hishon said of Duchene and O'Reilly. "Even in minor hockey before that. We're all kind of from the same area, within a two-hour radius. I've known them both since we were very young. Just to see their development and to see how much better they have gotten over the years, they just keep working to get better and better. Its pretty fun to watch.”
In skates before and during training camp in September, the three forwards were often the last to leave the rink after practice, with them pushing each other in the extra post-practice drills and not being satisfied until every puck was flipped from the ice into a bucket before heading to the locker room.
If there is one thing Hishon has learned from O'Reilly, Duchene and the rest of the Avalanche from his first stint with the club, it's how much work goes into making and staying in the NHL.
"They are never satisfied with what they do every single year," Hishon said. "They come back, they are better at something, whether they've gotten stronger, they've gotten quicker, they've worked on their skill. They never arrive. They're always striving to get better at something. That's huge to see, and for me watching that it helps a lot."
Now it's his turn to show that he has that same drive.