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Avs' Hishon tries to beat the odds again

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Joey Hishon knows all too well what it's like to be an underdog -- not that he doesn't relish the role.

The 5-foot-10 center was rated only the 55th-best North American skater by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau in the 2010 Entry Draft before the Colorado Avalanche selected him with its first pick (No. 17), one that was labeled "off the board" by a number of hockey pundits.

Considered a top 10 prospect before the 2009-10 season, the Stratford, Ont., native's stock fell on most team's lists after he missed all but 36 games because of injuries with the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League.

But the highly skilled if undersized forward helped to pull off an even bigger surprise this past season when the Attack captured the franchise's first OHL championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup.

"It was amazing, the run my team made," Hishon told NHL.com following an off-ice workout during the Avalanche's development camp at the team's suburban practice facility. "We weren't really expected to do anything. As a matter of fact, they had us ranked right out of the playoffs, so to have the season that we had and to be as successful as we were was the highlight of my junior career, for sure."

Taking into account his track record for beating the odds, it wouldn't be wise to discount Hishon's chances of winning a roster spot with the Avs in training camp even though the team already has three young centers in Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly.

"That's my goal and that's what I'm going to try and do," he said. "I don't think there will be a problem at all; there never has been in the past, making the jump from minor (hockey) to the OHL or anything. Hopefully, that stays the same and I can achieve my goal."

Hishon, who turns 20 on Oct. 20, doesn't lack for confidence. But he isn't taking anything for granted even after coming off a fourth season with Owen Sound in which he scored a team-high 87 points (37 goals, 50 assists) in just 50 games.

Hishon missed 18 games, including the first six with a hand injury he suffered early in Avalanche training camp. Hishon also had to sit out six games when the OHL suspended him for punching Niagara IceDogs center Ryan Strome in the face with a gloved hand. Hishon didn't receive a penalty for the punch, which he administered in response to a comment by Strome while skating to the penalty box for a high-sticking infraction.

Hishon returned to help Owen Sound finish atop the OHL's Midwest Division standings with a 46-17-1-4 record, the second-best overall mark in the league, and the Attack went on to capture the Robertson Cup as league champions

Hishon was enjoying an exceptional postseason when he sustained a head injury in the opening game of the Memorial Cup on an elbow by Kootenay's Brayden McNabb, who was handed a one-game suspension. Hishon missed the remainder of the tournament and finished the postseason with 24 points (5 goals, 19 assists) in 23 games.

"Everything is moving forward there," Hishon said of his health. "I feel awesome, so that's in the past and behind me. (The head injury) wasn't diagnosed as a concussion, but I had most of the symptoms and I had to give it time to calm down. Everything is fine now."

Knowing he needed to add some muscle to his frame, Hishon has put on about 10 pounds since he was drafted and now weighs in at 180.

"It's not easy for me to do, to put on weight, but it's something that I have to do if I want to be able to withstand the size of the men in the NHL," he said. "I could still gain a bit, I think. If I was around 185, I think that would be perfect for me. I still want to be able to have speed and to be quick. I don't want to get too big and slow down."

Voted the best stickhandler and playmaker in a poll of OHL Western Conference coaches, Hishon is a crafty forward with great speed and soft hands.

"My playmaking and my stickhandling are the best parts of my game," he said. "That and the ability to make other players on the ice better are the things I focus on when I'm on the ice. With that said, I try to be responsible in my own end as well."

Hishon, who is good friends with O'Reilly, will spend part of the summer training at the Lake Huron cottage in Ontario that is co-owned by O'Reilly and his brother Cal, a Nashville Predators forward.

Hishon and the O'Reilly siblings worked out on paddle boards last summer and will do so again this offseason.

"It's very tough," Hishon said. "We train really hard, but it's a lot of fun. The summers are awesome there. We were out there all the time. Not only is it a lot of fun, it's a great workout, too. I can't wait to get that going again."

The Avalanche's logjam at center – veteran Jay McClement also is in the mix – will make camp in September quite a challenge for Hishon, who wouldn't be opposed to moving to the wing if that's what it took to play in the NHL this season.

"If they told me to play goal, I'd play goal," he said. "I'd play anywhere they told me to. I'll do anything it takes to make the team. I'm definitely very excited and that's my goal in training camp.

"I don't think I have anything to prove. I'm just going to go out and do what I do. I'm going to take it day by day and work as hard as I possibly can."