The New York Islanders are bringing Josh Ho-Sang back one more time. The team signed the forward to a one-year deal on Tuesday, avoiding an arbitration hearing. The strained relationship between the two sides escalated after Ho-Sang informed the team he wanted to be traded earlier this year. With another year on the team, general manager Lou Lamoriello can carefully analyze the winger’s value and determine if he wants to retain him long-term.
Now earning the NHL league minimum, the pressure is on Ho-Sang to make an impact next season and reclaim his value among the league’s talented players. He spent this past season in the American Hockey League, but still has the skills to be an impact player at the NHL level. If Ho-Sang can return to the level he displayed over his first two seasons with the Islanders, he could be a real value signing for the cap-strained team.
After being selected by the Islanders 28th overall in 2014, Ho-Sang debuted with the team during the 2016-17 season. Fans and coaches alike were impressed by his dynamic skating ability and how he seemed to control the pace of play in the offensive zone.
Though he only played 43 games in his first two NHL seasons, he produced at 40-plus point paces over both seasons. The coaching staff’s concern, however, was the speedy winger’s habit for committing turnovers and his poor defensive play.
He produced at an even higher level with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers during those same two seasons, recording 67 points in 100 games.
As Ho-Sang continued to develop, he clashed with management on several occasions and put his future with the club in doubt. The team cited attitude issues and a reputation among the reasons he wasn’t on the opening-night roster last season. His initial refusal to report to the Sound Tigers all but confirmed that he wouldn’t be called up during the season.
He played a total of 22 AHL games between the Sound Tigers and the San Antonio Rampage, the St. Louis Blues’ affiliate he was loaned to. Ho-Sang finished his brief season with four goals and 13 points, further displaying the potential he has when given opportunities. After his first season without NHL action since his initial call-up, there was serious speculation that this would be the end of his run with the team. (from ‘Josh Ho-Sang loaned by Islanders to Blues’ AHL affiliate in San Antonio,’ Newsday, 02/28/2020) Another season to try to make things right could do wonders for the 24-year-old.
Despite the issues he’s faced in the past, Ho-Sang could have a sizeable opportunity in front of him. He remains on a team starved for offensive firepower, and the talent he possesses is undeniable. With at least two bottom-six forward slots open in the Islanders’ lineup, it will be a training camp to watch as Ho-Sang competes with other talented forwards to make the roster.
With only ten games played under Barry Trotz, it will be interesting to see how Ho-Sang responds to his coaching style. His coaches in Bridgeport have noted his skill, but Trotz puts a particular emphasis on a 200-foot game that Ho-Sang is still developing. If he can turn things around and prove his worth, he will have an opportunity to produce this season and earn a payday next summer.
Without an NHL appearance in almost two years, many are unsure as to what to expect from Ho-Sang in 2020-2021. There are many other NHL options for the Islanders, and many of these players have played under Trotz more frequently, with appearances during the team’s 2020 Playoff run.
Ho-Sang should be considered to have an outside shot to earn a job with the Islanders. A more realistic outlook would be for him to return to Bridgeport and be one of the first calls if the team has injury issues. Ho-Sang’s talent can’t be denied, and with some more responsibility both on the ice and away from the rink, he could become a value signing for the Islanders.