As Blue Jackets prospects gathered for development camp in Columbus, one traveled quite a bit further than the rest - 21-year-old defenseman Ryo Hashimoto of Sapporo, Japan.
A member of the Japanese National Hockey program, Hashimoto plays for the Oji Eagles of the Asia League, an 11-year old association made up of eight teams from China, Japan and South Korea.
In 109 games, he registered seven goals, 31 assists and a plus/minus of +61.
The North American game, however, is a whole different animal, as Hashimoto has discovered early on in camp. “The skating speed, the passing speed, the shooting seed,” Hashimoto said, as per the team's official website. “Everything is new to me.”
Hashimoto added the language barrier is also proving to be a challenge. “There are a lot of one-way answers,” Hashimoto admitted. “I tried to explain something to my teammate and when he finally answered, I couldn’t understand.”
Nevertheless, Columbus development coach Chris Clark sees potential in Hashimoto, who clearly has an understanding for the game. “Once you’re on the ice, hockey is hockey,” Clark said. “You see what a drill is the first time and then you go right into it.”
Yasuhiro Umeta, vice chief secretary of the Asia League, traveled with Hashimoto to Columbus, and hopes the experience helps strengthen the credibility of his league while opening the door for Asian players to make the jump to the NHL.
“The (Asia League) is trying to turn into a real professional league,” Umeta said. “Within the next three years, a big turning point will come up. That is what I’m hoping for.”
For his part, Clark said he would not be surprised to see Hashimoto or another Asian-trained player break into the NHL at some point in the near future.
Note: 19-year-old forward Yuri Terao also made the trip from Japan after being invited to the New York Islanders' development camp.