Training camp in 2019 is when Joshua Ho-Sang will meet with opportunity. We cannot predict what the highly skilled forward will do with this chance, but the potential impact on the New York Islanders forwards could be a needed boost to the team’s offense.
Ho-Sang signed a one-year, two-way deal on Aug. 19, after the 2018-19 season when he scored 8 goals and 35 assists in the AHL with Bridgeport. In 10 games with the Islanders, he scored one goal and one assist. His plus-two rating in those games was encouraging.
For Ho-Sang, the opportunity to finally stick at the NHL level will never be greater. The 23-year-old cannot be sent to the minors without passing through waivers after being signed to an entry-level contract as an 18-year-old. It’s unlikely the Islanders would risk losing a player of his potential over a fourth-liner like Ross Johnston and his $1 million salary, who would be more likely to clear waivers.
Ho-Sang’s strengths begin with his skating ability. Light on his edges with exceptional speed, he handles the puck with ease through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. He would be an elite puck-mover on the Islanders, joining Mathew Barzal, Nick Leddy and Devon Toews who can skate the puck out of trouble and into high danger scoring chances.
In 53 games with the Islanders over parts of three seasons, Ho-Sang has flashed his ability to set up his teammates with quality scoring chances, assisting on 17 goals. In particular, he has shown a natural chemistry with Brock Nelson, who possess one of the best wrist shots in hockey. If head coach Barry Trotz wants to inject some pizzazz to a line with Nelson and Josh Bailey, Ho-Sang would be a nice fit. In 256 Ontario Hockey League games, he scored 292 points, 82 goals and 210 assists. That would allow Trotz to ice a top line of Barzal, Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee.
If Ho-Sang is going to force himself into the lineup he’s going to have to gain the trust and confidence of his coach. The ability to be an all-zone player and defensively responsible has been his biggest challenge. Playing with the puck has been easy, his struggles to play without it have held him back.
Ho-Sang His Own Worst Enemy
Ho-Sang’s Islanders career has been rocky at best. He has at times been his own worst enemy. On Day 1 of training camp in September 2015, he overslept and reported to the team late. He was made to run the stairs and was sent back to the OHL without practicing with the team. In March of 2018, he criticized the Islanders organization after being demoted to the AHL. He wondered out loud why he seemed to be being blamed for the team’s defensive woes despite only playing 22 games, while the Islanders were on their way to being the NHL’s worst defensive team in 2017-18.
Even under a new regime being led by general manager Lou Lamoriello and coach Barry Trotz, Ho-Sang felt he didn’t get much of an opportunity in training camp and took a swipe at the team in an interview with Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post in an Oct. 30, 2018 article: “I felt like they had their minds made up on what was going to happen and what the team was going to look like. It’s OK. They had the whole summer to plan that. I don’t know if you watched any of the games, but I didn’t play a lot. It’s OK. It is what it is.”
Ho-Sang was recalled to the Islanders on Dec. 9, 2018, and it appeared the maturation process was finally kicking in. After not suiting up in a game in over a week he finally got back into the line-up and started to make a contribution. He said the right things in post-game interviews and was even praised for his work by Trotz.
After being sent back to the minors in early January, Ho-Sang struggled. The AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson told Michael Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post in an article on Feb. 4, 2019: “For me, it’s learning play away from the puck, and unnecessary turnovers. All it is is development. Every kid, like I said, has their own path, needs a little bit of a boot sometimes. This is a chance to reboot and see where it takes him.”
Another area where Ho-Sang has made strides is his maturity level. He has mostly avoided social media. He has turned the spotlight away from himself. The brash young player who saw his draft stock tumble before being selected by the Islanders 28th overall during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft has learned that his actions mean more than words.
It’s unfortunate that Ho-Sang’s development has taken longer than anticipated. As talented as he is, he now faces competition from fellow prospects Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom who are both looking to make the jump to the NHL. Both players bring a shooter’s mentality to their game, unlike Ho-Sang who operates as a pass-first player. Trotz even alluded to Ho-Sang’s lack of goal production when he was called up to the Islanders in December 2018.
This will be Ho-Sang’s last opportunity to make a lasting impression on the Islanders. He has all the tools to succeed and the Islanders need his skill set. Will he kick the door down and establish himself as a regular contributor? The opportunity with the Islanders will never be better.