As the NHL enters the final two weeks of the season, we’re beginning to see young players added to rosters for a cup of coffee and possible pre-tryout for next season. Some of them, such as Florida’s Henrik Borgstrom or Buffalo’s Casey Mittelstadt, recently signed as pros from the NCAA ranks. Others have spent the season in a pro league, such as Eeli Tolvanen in the KHL, or any number of players who spent this season in the AHL.
Wherever they’re coming from, it’s a good time of year for NHL clubs to get a glimpse of a player who could be part of their team in the near future.
Since the New York Islanders have faded from the playoff race, many have been wondering where is Josh Ho-Sang? The 22-year-old was the 28th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft and has played 22 NHL games this season, most recently on Dec. 14. In 41 AHL games with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers he has eight goals and 26 points, seemingly worthy of a late-season call-up.
But as he remains with the Sound Tigers it’s not just Islanders observers questioning the team’s plan for him. Ho-Sang himself is wondering what he has to do to get another look from the NHL team.
“I love those guys, I want to make that clear,” Ho-Sang told The Athletic’s Arthur Staple about the Islanders players. “I know they’re working hard. But I got sent down for defence and what are they in goals against in the NHL? I only played (22) games up there this year. I don’t think it’s my fault. They really painted it like it was my fault at the beginning of the year and I didn’t like that.
“I do have things I need to work on down here, my game is far from perfect. It can constantly improve. But I do think a lot of the stuff was unwarranted, especially in terms of the rope that other people were given. I understand I have a history and that might be a factor. I don’t know. But it’s frustrating to me.”
The Islanders, though fully capable of generating offence, have seen their playoff hopes slip away due to goal prevention. Their 3.58 goals-against per game is the highest in the league and the most allowed since the 2006-07 Philadelphia Flyers allowed 3.62 per game. The Islanders’ 35.7 shots-against per game is also the most in the league, and the highest rate during the salary cap era.
Though Ho-Sang has immense upside with great hands, speed and creativity, the knock on his game comes from the defensive side of the puck. When Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson made Ho-Sang a healthy scratch in January, he talked about the player’s youth, adding he was still learning the all-around demands of the pro game.
At the time, the Islanders were dealing with an injury to Josh Bailey, who was playing on John Tavares’ wing. It seemed like a good opportunity to call up Ho-Sang and play him with the franchise centre, but, at least partly because of the scratch, the NHL club passed him over.
“It’s a crying shame (Ho-Sang’s) not playing with John Tavares when Bails goes down,” Weight told Staple at the time. “We had six guys out. It was a perfect opportunity. And Josh should be upset with himself.
“Whether our view of the world is wrong is something we can argue later. But the fact is, we need to be able to look at how some guys are laying it on the line [in Bridgeport] and he’s a healthy scratch. So to go from that to the first lineup here, where is he learning from that? That’s a big, big part of this.”
For his part, Ho-Sang talked about how tough it was on him mentally to start the season in the NHL, then get healthy scratched in the AHL a few months later and overlooked for a recall.
It wasn’t the first time the team took issue with Ho-Sang. There was also an incident at training camp back in 2015 when Ho-Sang forgot to set an alarm, slept in, and was late for practice. He was sent back to junior shortly after.
“Obviously a lot more people found out about my mistake than other people’s daily ones, but I definitely take ownership,” Ho-Sang said at the time. “I don’t think there’s anyone to blame… it’s embarrassing.”
Over the past two seasons, Ho-Sang has played 43 NHL games with the Islanders, during which time the team has a 24-15-4 record. Ho-Sang has 22 points in those games and a minus-6 rating. All his games this season came in the first half, whereas all the games he played last year came near the end of the season.
“I feel like I can help, you know? I feel like I can help,” Ho-Sang told The Athletic.
“There were some comments about me when I wasn’t in the NHL, so I wasn’t affecting the team, but they were focused on my defence and my turnovers when… Look, if you’re going to send me down because of defence, it’d be nice to see other people be held accountable. That’s all.”