Quebec native Pierre-Olivier Joseph, was the first Black player drafted in the 2017 NHL Draft when the Arizona Coyotes selected the defenseman with the 23rd pick in the first round.
In the game of hockey, a defenseman wears many hats. They keep the heat off the goalie, take (and give) hard hits if need be, have the task of disrupting the shooting lanes created by their opponents and most importantly, make the seamless transition to move the puck when needed.
I was in a blank space when I heard [my name called], Joseph said. I hugged someone. I heard my name and I just stopped. I was frozen and I stopped.
Joseph starred in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, a league that has produced NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Patrick Roy, Denis Savard and Mario Lemieux.
The 6-foot-2, 163-pound Joseph had six goals, 33 assists and 39 points with 54 penalty minutes in 62 games with the Charlottetown Islanders. It was the second-most points among Islanders blueliners.
COMBINE | Pierre-Olivier Joseph
Pierre-Olivier Joseph speaks at the 2017 Scouting Combine.
Joseph recorded 3-17-20 on the power-play and his 17 power-play assists were the second-highest on the team. His 33 assists were the sixth-most single season assists by a defenseman in team history.
ISS Hockey (International Scouting Services) said this about his draft prospects:
Intriguing prospect. Wears A. Big mobile defender, no fun to play against. Plays a two-way game, but looks like he will develop into more of a shutdown physical defensive defender at next level.
Joseph, who often makes the aforementioned transition from French and English when speaking to the media, is aware of his place in a majority white sport.
I want to show just because were different doesnt mean we cant do it, he told The Shadow League. I just want to show I can do it the NHL. I want to enjoy the moment right now. I just want to be the best player I can possibly be.
He also told reporters at the draft that his favorite NHL player is Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban.
He is happy and he has the passion to play the game said Joseph. Hes smiles and he is enjoyable on the ice.
Joseph, who was ranked as the 27th-best North American draft-eligible skater by Central Scouting, admitted to being nervous. After all, hes leaving his native Quebec for the desert in Arizona.
Obviously, I didnt want to think about the draft, he said. I played cards and watched movies as the day goes on, but as I sat in the stands and watched the names go by, I was thinking whether Id get called or not.
The adjustment may be smoother than expected. Joseph will be a teammate of another Black player from Quebec in forward Anthony Duclair. He also wants to beef up his wiry frame so he can take the punishment the NHL will give out.
Obviously, theres been some players Ive been watching, said Joseph. [Anthony] Duclair. Ive been watching Shane Doan since hes been on the team. [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson is a player Ive watched too. Ill put myself to work and play the best I can and be ready to contribute.
(Photo Credit: Evan F. Moore)
He also knew what the expect from Draft Day. He watched his older brother, forward Mathieu Joseph of the QMJHLs Saint John Sea Dogs, get drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the fourth round in 2015.
Joseph gave all the credit to his family for helping him achieve a childhood dream.
I was a bit of an underdog, he said. Obviously, I had my brother and my family to push me. Everyone has been there for me to push me and make me the player I am now. Im going to camp to show myself and prove myself. I want to show they [Coyotes] made the right choice in picking me.