The grin said it all. Well, the grin and the black eye.
When Devils prospect Mitchell Hoelscher, a center with the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's, was asked to explain the dark circle around his left eye, he flashed a smile and offered a blunt explanation.
A puck? An errant stick?
"I took a couple of uppercuts," he said.
During a recent game between the 67's and London Knights, a matchup that could be a preview of the OHL Final in the spring, things got a little chippy at the end of the game.
A line brawl ensued and Hoelscher ended up in a tussle with Knights forward Jonathan Gruden, son of the former NHL defenceman of the same name who is now an assistant coach with the New York Islanders.
Evidently, the younger Gruden, an Ottawa Senators prospect, landed a few.
No bother, whatever short-term pain took place that night has been more than off-set by some sweet play by Hoelscher to start the season. Buoyed by his experience in camp with the Devils over the summer, the 19-year-old has been on fire and has been one of the OHL's best two-way forwards on one of its best teams.
"I was a lot more comfortable, it was my second camp," explained Hoelscher, "I think I made an impression, and I want to continue to make an impression this season."
That sentiment was echoed by Hoelscher's coach.
"He has been great for us and I think this is going to be a real break-out year for him," said 67's head coach Andre Tourigny. "His hockey sense has been off the charts."
Hoelscher is not exactly a late bloomer but his drafting by the Devils in 2018 (sixth round, 172nd overall) and his continued to development is a testament to perseverance. He has had to grind his way just to get on to Ottawa's roster. He arrived three years ago as a slight, skilled forward after the 67's picked him with the 56th selection in the OHL's priority selection.
Hoelscher made a six-game cameo for Ottawa that season, scoring twice, but spent most of the year with the Elmira Sugar Kings, helping them win the Sutherland Cup, the Ontario Junior B championship.
Returning to Canada's capital as a 17-year-old, he had 28 points (10G, 18A) but showed potential for the Devils to select him.
Tourigny says that Hoelscher's physical maturity is starting to catch up to the cerebral elements to his game.
"He's come a long way," said Tourigny. "He's gotten a lot thicker. He still has more to do if he wants to play in the NHL but he is now much better at the (physical element)."
As has been widely reported in this space and in other media, the Devils have three prospects on the 67's roster. Hoelscher is joined by fellow forward Graeme Clarke, and defenceman Nikita Okhotyuk. That trio help form a core that is expected to make the 67's one of the top teams in the Canadian Hockey League. For now, Hoelscher, Clarke and Co. are awaiting Okhotuyk's return to the lineup from a finger injury.
For Hoelscher, making a run to the OHL Final last year, running up a two-games-to-none lead before dropping four straight is extra motivation this season.
"I would say we're more motivated than distracted (by last year)," he said.
If the devil's in the details, Tourigny points to Hoelscher's competitive fire, and that fight with Gruden, the Sens prospect, in early October, as another positive sign.
"No one wants to go back to the days of old-time hockey and see fights all the time," said Tourigny, "But it was kind of nice to see Mitchell not being satisfied with use getting beat and choosing to do something about it."