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NHL Journey Comes Full Circle for Joey Hishon

Tuesday's Kings-Avs game sees Joey Hishon meet familiar foe Brayden McNabb on NHL ice, nearly 4 years after McNabb's elbow changed the course of Hishon's career.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

I remember the moment Joey Hishon was drafted by the Avalanche in 2010. I remember the mass confusion, the MHH thread blowing up with "who in the world is that??" followed by Pierre McGuire and the other guys on the desk acknowledging the pick as "off the board." Re-live it with me real quick.

Coming off a surprise playoff appearance, the Avalanche made a surprise draft pick at 17th overall and the team was raising eyebrows all over the league.

A year earlier, with far less intrigue and fan fare, the Buffalo Sabres used the 66th overall pick on hulking blueliner Brayden McNabb, just two picks after the Avalanche passed on him in favor of puck-moving defenseman Tyson Barrie. While just another team's middle round draft pick, Avalanche fans had no idea how familiar they would become with the Kootenay Ice defender.

Fast forward to today and Hishon's story has become an Avalanche folk tale of sorts. Remember that small, talented kid the Avs drafted in 2010 that surprised everyone in the arena, only to watch him explode the next season for 87 points in 50 games during the regular season and 24 more points in 22 playoff games? That Hishon kid, right? Wicked hit that kid took.

The hit. It always comes back to the hit.

Yeah, that one.

McNabb was suspended 1 game for the hit and Joey Hishon wouldn't play a competitive hockey game for 22 months. The concussion-riddled issues Hishon suffered through are well-chronicled. He would finally make his professional debut on March 19, 2013 and  play 9 games for the Monsters before another questionable hit would cause a second concussion, though one far less severe than the one from the McNabb hit, prematurely ending yet another season.

A year after the hit in 2011, the National Post would profile Brayden McNabb during his first year of professional hockey, showcasing him as a rugged defender known for his toughness as McNabb eagerly sought to shed the label of "dirty", given to him because Joey Hishon was still sidelined. When asked about the hit that caused Hishon's career to spiral, McNabb responded with noted contrition:

"If I could bring it back and not do it, I would for sure," McNabb said on Friday. "He’s still suffering. It’s something that you don’t want. I wouldn’t want that on myself, so I definitely wouldn’t want it for anyone else."

McNabb would go on to defend himself later in the article:

"I remember it pretty well, and I’ve watched it several times," McNabb from his dressing room stall in Buffalo, where he has caught on with the Sabres. "I remember him just coming down, and I saw an opportunity to step up and make a big hit. He kind of saw me at the last second and kind of ducked. He kind of went straight into my elbow. It was definitely unintentional."

While Hishon would go on to say he didn't think it was intentional, the two reportedly never contacted one another about the hit and have gone on their professional paths without speaking despite being constantly tainted by the incident.

For McNabb, that path was fairly standard as he made his NHL debut in the 2011-12 season, appearing in 25 games for the Buffalo Sabres after 45 games for the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League. McNabb would spend the next two seasons in the AHL, playing in 100 games and seeing action in just 12 more games for the Sabres. McNabb was traded at the 2014 trade deadline to the Los Angeles Kings, who would see him finish the season for their AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, to the tune of 14 games.

Now an NHL regular, McNabb has played in 59 games this season for the Kings, scoring 19 points, good for 3rd on the team in defenseman scoring, despite averaging only a modest 15:32 TOI per game. All in all, the 24-year old defender has settled in nicely as a part of the Kings organization and looks to be a stalwart along that blue line for years to come.

Hishon, on the other hand, has struggled to recover the magic that saw him dominate the OHL in 2010-11. After finally being cleared for a full season of hockey, Hishon struggled on a poor Monsters team, putting up only 24 points in 50 games played as he struggled with non-concussion injuries and adjusting to the speed of the pro game. Despite being an emergency call-up for the Avalanche in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs where he played 3 games, registering 1 assist, Hishon would begin this season as a Lake Erie Monster yet again. Even with the Avalanche bottom 6 ravaged by injuries and 6 Monster forwards making appearances for the Avalanche during this season, the once highly-touted Hishon appeared to be more of a forgotten man than legitimate prospect as he chugged along to the tune of 32 points in 50 games for the Monsters.

Then it all changed on the day of the trade deadline, as an otherwise nondescript deadline for the Avalanche saw them finally recall Hishon to play for the Avalanche.  Hishon has only appeared in 2 games for the Avs but has played very well in limited ice time, registering 4 shots in just 14 minutes of play across those two games. Most notably, his defensive work has impressed and shades of the old fiery Joey Hishon have shown through.

As the Los Angeles Kings visit Denver today, finally, nearly 4 years after the hit that will forever link the two players, Joey Hishon and Brayden McNabb will share the ice as members of NHL teams.  For Colorado's Hishon, it is only the beginning as he continues to vie for ice time on a scrappy underachiever. For LA's McNabb, his 97th NHL game sees him continue proving he belongs on a veteran-laden Cup contender making a late-season push.

It's been a long, arduous road for the battle-tested Hishon and his perceived villain but for the first time in a long time, the story can finally be about two guys playing hockey again.

Let's drop the puck.