Coyotes’ Pierre-Olivier Joseph’s wait may depend on his weight
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Most people would pay to have P.O. Joseph’s problem. The Coyotes 2017 first-round pick (No. 23) spent the entire season with the Charlottetown Islanders trying to add weight and muscle to his 160-plus-pound frame. He lived with the team’s nutritionist, who prepared meals for him. He spent hours training with Islanders athletic therapist Kevin Elliott and he never shied away from an extra snack.
“We had a running joke that every time we did a video meeting he’d have three or four peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in his hand,” Islanders coach and general manager Jim Hulton said. “Every time I looked, this kid was eating. As my mid-life approaches, I’m thinking, ‘jeez, that would be a nice problem to have.’”
The net gain of all that gorging?
“I’ll say two pounds,” Joseph said, laughing. “It’s not big, but I’ll take it.”
The 6-foot-2 defenseman weighed in at Coyotes development camp on Monday at a robust 168 pounds. Fortunately for Joseph, he won’t turn 19 until July 1. With his path certain to include another year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Coyotes are content to let time take its course with his body.
“That’s the missing piece but that’s the piece we think we can address,” Coyotes general manager John Chayka said. “We’re going to be patient with him. The physical side needs to continue to come. He’s here working every day so that’s up to him and it will take as long as it takes, but once he’s physically developed, we see a high upside for him.”
So does Hulton. When the Islanders began the 2017-18 season, most predictions had them finishing near the bottom of the QMJHL. They had lost a ton of players and they were young and inexperienced.
“Internally, one of the reasons for optimism was the leadership of P.O. as our captain and three or four of his supporting cast,” Hulton said. “He’s such a good person. He’s a guy that motivates by encouraging and that became the atmosphere in our room.”
Charlottetown finished in ninth place in the regular-season standings at 37-24-7, but the Islanders advanced to the playoff semifinals before falling to regular-season champ Blainville-Boisbriand in Game 7.
“It’s rare but we really had a locker room that was free of ego and because of that, the season ended up much better than anybody thought,” Hulton said. “He took the franchise further than it’s ever been.”
Joseph gleaned some lessons from Coyotes training camp last season that he took back to Charlottetown.
“The guys are really fast here and you have to move your feet,” he said. “I had the chance to work with the skating coach back in Charlottetown. That’s what we were working on a lot, just quick feet and how to retrieve the puck as fast as possible because these guys are coming hard.”
Hulton saw progress in other areas.
“The most obvious thing was his shot, which became a valuable weapon,” he said. “He’s still growing into his offense. I think there’s another layer he can add, but we saw a new dimension this year in terms of him joining the rush and being way more confident coming from behind. That’s what gets everybody excited is his ability to read the play and join the rush because that’s the modern-day defenseman.
“Defensively, he’s got a really good stick and good hockey sense and positioning. The one thing he brought home from pro camp is the importance of stick positioning. It was an example we used a lot with our younger defensemen. He can’t engage in a ton of physical battles until he has more strength and with the minutes he plays at our level, but by being smart he can make up for that.”
Joseph’s brother, Mathieu, experienced a similar trajectory with his physical development, struggling to gain weight in his late teens. At age 21, he has filled out to 183 pounds. Mathieu had 15 goals and 53 points in 70 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, last season.
With that model set for him, P.O doesn’t worry much about his body or his timeline.
“I don’t think there’s a timeline for anybody,” he said. “When the time comes, you’ll be there. You just need to keep improving every day on and off the ice, coming to these camps and showing your best and improving the people around you.”