Alleged attitude problems and time management issues defined the beginning of Josh Ho-Sang’s NHL career with the New York Islanders. Drafted by the franchise in the first round, 28th overall in 2014, Ho-Sang played 53 games over parts of three season with the Islanders before he went overseas to play in Sweden.
Now, a year removed from playing in North America, Ho-Sang will get another opportunity to impress at an NHL camp – this time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. On July 28, the Maple Leafs announced that they were bringing the native of Thornhill, Ontario, to camp on a professional try-out (PTO) – a chance for him to showcase what really made him a first-round pick for the Islanders.
Ho-Sang’s Taste of the NHL
A junior phenom, Ho-Sang played four seasons in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires and the Niagara IceDogs from 2012 to 2016. Over that span, he posted three seasons of 81 points or more, including an 85-point season in 2013-14 with the Spitfires. But the fiery forward also engaged in the physical play – landing himself in the penalty box on a number of occasions.
Leading into his draft season, some had Ho-Sang projected in the early part of the first round, but questions surrounding his character saw him drop to latter part of that same round. So, why was he still a first-round pick? His skill set was undeniable.
His ability to handle the puck is like few others in his draft. He sees the game well in the offensive zone and his top-speed skating is something worth watching. But outside of the offensive zone his game had holes. His defensive game was often questioned and that, along with the questions of surrounding him off the ice, the Islanders were able to grab him just prior to the second round.
After being drafted in 2014, Ho-Sang made his NHL debut in 2016-17 with the Isles. He played 21 games during the regular season and tallied four goals and 10 points. His play was exciting, but unfortunately his confidence and swagger rubbed some the wrong way.
Over the following two seasons, he played another 32 regular season games with 14 points. He saw no postseason action over those three seasons with the Islanders and ended up spending the majority of his time with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers and San Antonio Rampage before heading overseas to Sweden for the start of the 2020-21 campaign on loan.
In four seasons in the AHL, his numbers didn’t really suffer. He had 30 goals and 123 points – showing, still, that his offensive prowess was nothing short of impressive over his 178 regular season games. So, with that, the Maple Leafs decided to take a chance on a player who is still just 25 years old. It’s a move that could work out in both parties’ favour.
A Potential Win for the Maple Leafs
For the most part, the Maple Leafs big league roster is set – with the exception of maybe one or two spots up front and the eventual line combinations come puck drop for the 2021-22 season. But there’s always been room for players to steal a spot out of camp – an opportunity Ho-Sang could get if he has a good showing on his PTO.
From the Maple Leafs’ standpoint, it’s a situation that they simply can’t miss on. If his play hasn’t changed and his confidence still causes off-ice issues, then it makes the team’s decision quite easy.
However, considering his skill-set and the fact that he’s still just 25, the potential for Ho-Sang to be a project in the Maple Leafs’ organization makes it far more of a rewarding opportunity. Let’s say he doesn’t crack the roster and the team decides to put him back in the AHL with the Marlies. Not only is he still given another shot in North America, but he’s in an organization that has Rich Clune leading the charge in the AHL – a player that has learned his own lessons throughout his career and one that can be a good role model for the young Ho-Sang.
Injuries can lead to opportunity and the Maple Leafs’ have had their fair share over the past few seasons – another reminder that holes will be available in the team’s lineup potentially at some point during the season.
And, assuming he’s able to play the role needed for the Maple Leafs, Ho-Sang isn’t a bad filler for that type of opportunity. Look at a guy like Alex Galchenyuk this season. A player that so many had written off, getting yet another opportunity with the Maple Leafs. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what Ho-Sang needs.
As for Ho-Sang, it should be looked at as a rewarding opportunity as well from his perspective.
A Potential Win for Ho-Sang
Sure, it’s not a full contract, but it’s another chance to put yourself into an organization that is looking to give you the opportunity. Better yet, if he does display solid skills and the ability to play the depth role, this could lead to a contract with another club if the Maple Leafs do choose to go a different route.
There’s so many ways to look at it and really none of them come at a loss for Ho-Sang. We’ve seen the depth of the Maple Leafs. We’ve seen the issues they’ve had at times and the injuries that have piled up from season to season. Players like Pierre Engvall and Adam Brooks have slotted in and stuck at times because of injuries. And while Ho-Sang might not be the first option to fill a spot, it’s a league that could reward a player that works hard to develop into that depth role player.
Either way, the announcement that Ho-Sang will be joining the Maple Leafs at camp isn’t about bringing in a former first-round pick. Rather, it’s a move in which the Maple Leafs entered into a win-win situation with Ho-Sang – a young, offensive, first-round pick that has the potential to be a depth role player with substantial upside if, in fact, he can buy into the system that presents itself at camp.
For now, only time will tell where he ends up. But, this is a win-win situation for the Maple Leafs and Josh Ho-Sang.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.