Prospect Ho-Sang starting over with Islanders
Disappointing first-rounder looking to bloom under new regime
Josh Ho-Sang entered the Islanders’ organization as a brash, dynamic and somewhat tempestuous prospect when he was selected with the 28th overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
Four years later, the 22-year-old Toronto native is just trying to prove he can play at the NHL level for a full season, a quest that begins in earnest Thursday when the Brooklyn-based franchise officially opens training camp to all its players.
Ho-Sang never quite saw eye-to-eye with the Islanders’ previous brain trust, since-departed general manager Garth Snow and head coach Doug Weight. He believes that Hall of Fame GM and Team President Lou Lamoriello and reigning Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz will get his best this coming year.
“I’m happy with the opportunity to get a fresh start,” Ho-Sang said during rookie camp as the Islanders’ prospects prepared to participate in the annual rookie game against Philadelphia at the Northwell Health Ice Center on Wednesday night.
“It’s not just me,” he added. “I think a lot of people are looking to find a way to win and to have success is the most important thing. We’re focused on that as a group.”
Going along with the group mentality hasn’t always been easy for Ho-Sang, who has flashed some brilliance on the ice during his 43 games in the NHL over the past two seasons.
He wears the No. 66 as a tribute to Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux and has even gone as far as to say he will be as good as the two-time Stanley Cup winner with 690 career goals.
On the flip side of that ambitious goal, Ho-Sang overslept for Day One of training camp three years ago, prompting Snow to send him back to juniors immediately thereafter.
A hand injury hampered his performance throughout last season as he managed two goals and 10 assists with the Isles before amassing 31 points in 50 games at AHL Bridgeport after Snow once again demoted him to the minors in December.
But now, with Lamoriello and Trotz offering a new opportunity to virtually every player in the system, Ho-Sang will likely get his final chance to stand out as a top-six forward for an organization in dire need of scoring talent following the departure of team captain John Tavares to Toronto.
“It’s all been positive,” Ho-Sang said of his relationship with the Isles’ new on-and-off-the-ice leaders.
“Every conversation I’ve had with them since the moment that they became a part of this organization has just been teaching,” he added. “I’m taking everything they say and implementing it into my daily routines, on-ice routines at the rink, everything and it’s a work in progress, but I’m working really hard.”
Entering the final year on his original rookie deal, Ho-Sang has no choice but to put his best skate forward as the Isles prepare for their first season without Tavares since he was selected first overall in the 2009 draft.
Trotz, fresh off guiding the Washington Capitals to their first-ever NHL title, has every intention of giving Ho-Sang a fair and honest assessment of his skills going forward.
“I spent some time with him just sitting, just talking how he sees the game, how he sees life, how he sees himself,” Trotz told Newsday.
“He has a tremendous amount of talent. With Josh, the No. 1 thing is to understand the whole thing of being a pro in every aspect. It’s the whole package.”
While playing in a rookie game with players just entering the league going into his fourth year is hardly what Ho-Sang predicted when he first donned the Orange and Blue, the former top prospect has been showing up to skates early and leaving late.
He also has learned quite a bit from the humbling experiences he has endured over the previous three campaigns in the organization.
“I had to become stronger last year mentally, and for me it was a great learning experience,” Ho-Sang admitted.
“I’ve never had a year like I did last year and it’s not even to do with hockey, it was just a hard year for me. I feel happy and healthier and I’m excited for the year.”
Ho-Sang’s AHL coach, Brent Thompson, who spearheaded the team’s rookie camp, also believes this former can’t-miss player is finally ready to assume a key role for the Isles going forward.
“He was working, he was competing, asking questions and engaged,” Thompson noted.
“He’s maturing every year, and this is another step. He’s coming in, he’s a little bit older. The experience he’s gone through, hopefully he takes that and learns from it and moves forward.”
Moving back at this point would probably derail any hope Ho-Sang has of hanging on with the Isles this season.
So, the team will get his best before, and he hopes, after the Isles announce their Opening Night roster for the first game of the season at Carolina on Oct. 4.
“You get to see everyone who is chasing you and you really want to get on that NHL team because these guys are hungry,” Ho-Sang noted.
While there’s no questioning Ho-Sang’s talent with the puck on his stick, it’s the other aspects of his game, namely checking and defense, that have kept him from assuming a full-time role on the roster.
“If he gets that, the sky is the limit for him,” Thompson told the team’s website earlier this week.
“I think he has a good opportunity here for him this year. With Barry and the staff they have and the players they’ve worked with, it’s a clean slate and everybody is moving forward.”