Joey Hishon Deserves to be an Avalanche This Season


I’m buying large quantities of Joey Hishon stock, and stashing it in the cupboard behind the Nutella. You should be doing the same thing, as should Patrick Roy, Joe Sakic, and the rest of the guys who have a say in the final roster for the Colorado Avalanche on opening day.

Hishon the Magician is the coolest sorcerer to enter my life since Harry Potter, way back in elementary school. Unlike most magicians though, Hishon does not specialize in illusions, and didn’t pick up his skill set flicking his wand and getting into trouble at Hogwarts. The kid is the real deal, deserves to be on the Avs, and will make them a much more dangerous team. Frankly, I’d be disappointed, dumbfounded, and Dumble-floored if he isn’t the Avalanche’s starting third-line center in Minnesota on October 9th.

Why am I so keen on Hishon? First off, he’s been incredibly impressive throughout training camp, and during yesterday’s burgundy and white contest. The 5’10” forward may not stand tall on the ice, but he plays a big game. During training camp Hishon skated with Gabe Landeskog and Alex Tanguay during scrimmages, and the trio was dominant both days. Hishon was not a backpacker getting carried by Landy and Tangs either, he is a dynamic playmaker, possessing outstanding vision and passing skills. Let’s not forget, the Avs used a first-round pick to get this guy.

Hishon the Magician is the coolest sorcerer to enter my life since Harry Potter. I’d be Dumble-floored if he isn’t the starting third-line center for the Avalanche.

During the burgundy and white game yesterday Hishon centered a line with Paul Carey and Dennis Everberg for team white. During the first period this was the best line on the ice, and scored the first goal of the game. Paul Carey stood out this week too, by the way. Great speed and aggression when he’s out on the ice. But back to Hishon. He reminds me of Stastny, in the way that he is a pivot who makes his line-mates better. He is creative and has great stick-handling skills, but also that innate sense and vision to find guys in good spots in the ice. It’s one of those skills that is hard to teach, or some may say impossible to teach.

Joey Hishon warms up prior to the Burgundy and White game at Magness Arena. September 21, 2014 -Denver University. Photo credit to Heather Williams.

I love the idea of having an aggressive, dynamic, attacking third-line. Last season the Avs started the year with a third-line of Nathan MacKinnon, Jamie McGinn, and PA Parenteau. Before Tanguay got hurt, and Steve Downie was sent packing for Max Talbot, the Avs rolled with three lines who could put significant pressure on the opposing team shift after shift after shift. The Avs were nearly unstoppable, jumping out to a 12-1 record. Once the third-line was morphed into a more traditional checking line, the Avs were still a solid team, but never duplicated the stretch of hockey they started the season with.

Look back in Avalanche history, and you will find a chapter on Chris Drury, perhaps the greatest third-line center to ever don a burgundy and blue jersey. When the Avs iced a third-line led by Drury, they were incredibly hard to defend and match-up against. The other team’s egos were usually needing to be iced after the game. Bill Clement had a saying in one of the old EA Sports NHL games that I used to play, “If Sakic or Forsberg didn’t get you, Chris Drury probably did.” If Duchene or MacKinnon didn’t get you, Joey Hishon probably did. Has a nice ring to it, eh?!

If Duchene or MacKinnon didn’t get you, Joey Hishon probably did. Has a nice ring to it, eh?!

Having a checking third-line is old-school. Roy has shown us he can embrace new-school aggressive tactics with his affection for pulling his goalie so early. Seriously, I always used to hold my breath once the goalie got pulled until A) the Avs scored or B) the game was over. This method always worked well for me, until Roy became the head coach and an option C became a reality. The first time Roy pulled the goalie I turned purple and passed out. Much like I embraced breathing when the goalie is pulled now, Roy should embrace the new-school and ditch the stale third-line meta.

Over the past couple of years, hockey analytics have become an accepted part of the game. Teams have even begun hiring staff to understand which statistics they can track, and if those statistics have value toward predicting success and positive results. Statistics such as Corsi and Fenwick are fairly well known at this point, and have proven to be fairly reliable predictors for success, and having high marks in those areas requires a team that can control the puck. Teams that win generally win the possession battle. Hard-nosed, heart-and-soul muckers who block shots and take a beating are no longer as useful, if that’s all they can do. You need players who can control the puck, and create dangerous scoring chances.

The Avalanche have some interesting decisions to make as the season approaches. How does slotting Hishon into the third-line center role shake-up the rest of the roster?

For starters, the Avs will need to find a new spot for projected third-line center John Mitchell. Mitchy is such a solid hockey player, and fills a key role for this squad because of his versatility. He will need to showcase that versatility again, as I would move him to wing, a role he has played before when he has gotten top-six duty due to injuries. This gives the Avalanche a third-line composed of Jamie McGinn (assuming he gets healthy) and John Mitchell on the wings, centered by Joey Hishon.

I love this line, and think it will create that dynamic attacking line I am so infatuated with, and the three tiered attack that the Avalanche should employ.

One thing Mitchell doesn’t do well is facilitate and create for other guys on the ice. Mitchell has a tendency to hold on to the puck too long at times, and just doesn’t have great play-making skills overall. Playing on a wing with Hishon will allow Mitchell to play to the strengths of his game, getting in hard on the forecheck, driving the net, and sniping goals with his surprisingly good shot. Hishon can be the creator in the middle, and allow McGinn and Mitchell to shine, rather than be buried in an ineffective and offensively anemic bottom six. Hishon and McGinn actually showed pretty good chemistry in limited time together during the playoffs.

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As for the fourth-line, Jesse Winchester looks like the man for the center-ice duties. He has looked rock-solid based on what I’ve seen of him. Good on the face-offs, and his board play has been nothing short of excellent. Honestly, I’m having a really hard time with where to put Danny Briere. He might fit in nicely on a wing with Hishon, but that seems like it would only work in those video games I mentioned earlier. In real life, having both those little guys on the same line is something other teams could punish too easily. I guess you slot Briere in as the fourth line wing, and tell him he’s going to have to earn time being a stud on the power play and penalty kill, and that he will be expected to fill in as necessary in the top-nine when injuries hit.

This leaves us with Cody McLeod and Max Talbot. Actually, a fourth line of those two guys centered by Winchester sounds pretty darn good to me, let’s just go with that. I just don’t see the Avs scratching Briere though, but I say it again, I really don’t see a nice spot for Danny on this team. It always seems like I’m forcing him in somewhere, and that he is getting that spot based on reputation, despite the fact that I don’t think he has much left in the tank. My bold move would be to scratch Briere. I honestly think doing so allows the Avs to create the best line-up possible.

It really boils down to this question. Is having Joey Hishon on the third-line worth bumping the fiery McLeod, veteran Max Talbot, or crafty Briere from the lineup? In my mind it’s worth it. But hey, I’m a sucker for magic. How about you? Leave a comment below.