Josh Ho-Sang skated backward like a defenseman, getting good spacing with Devon Toews to break up a Rangers’ rush in the first period of Monday night’s 3-1 preseason loss at Madison Square Garden after Toews’ partner, Scott Mayfield, had pinched forward along the left boards.
In the third period, Ho-Sang created space where none seemingly was, skating with the puck from the boards to the crease.
Has the mercurial right wing done enough to win a regular-season job with the Islanders? Well, he’s still on the roster after the Islanders re-assigned 12 to their AHL affiliate in Bridgeport on Wednesday.
“I’m really proud of myself,” Ho-Sang said of his defensive efforts, adding, “absolutely not,” when asked if his defending has become more instinctual. “Defense is not something I think about. I don’t go to bed thinking about defense. It’s something that’s really important to the coaches here. I value the importance to them. I’ve grown to see how it leads to success.”
The Islanders’ roster stands at 40 heading into their preseason finale on Saturday night against the Rangers in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Islanders still must get down to 23 for their regular season opener against the Capitals on Oct. 4 at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum.
Forwards Kieffer Bellows, Arnaud Durandeau, Scott Eansor, Ryan Hitchcock of Manhasset, Mason Jobst, Otto Koivula, Jeff Kubiak, Kyle MacLean, Nick Schilkey and John Stevens and defensemen Sebastian Aho and Grant Hutton – none of whom required waivers – were reassigned to the Sound Tigers.
Ho-Sang, 23, has tantalized the organization with his skating and offensive talents since being selected 28th overall in 2014 while confounding management at times with his words and actions. He does require waivers to be reassigned to Bridgeport.
So does fellow 2014 first-rounder Michael Dal Colle. Those two, Oliver Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, along with Tom Kuhnhackl, Ross Johnston, Tanner Fritz and Cole Bardreau are seemingly competing for one open spot among the top-12 forwards. This year's first-round pick, right wing Simon Holmstrom, also remains on the roster.
“That’s a loaded question,” Ho-Sang said when asked if he believes he’s done enough to earn a roster spot. “I don’t know. You’ve got to ask them. I feel like I’ve played well. I feel like the offense will come with time.”
Ho-Sang has one assist in three preseason games. He was on Brock Nelson’s line with Josh Bailey on Tuesday and was used on the top power-play unit.
“Yeah, it’s what I do,” Ho-Sang said of his third-period burst. “If I get the chance, I feel like I can bring that a lot. The more comfortable I get, the more I can do. It’s tough, no one said playing in the NHL is easy.”
But for all of Ho-Sang's offensive skill, Barry Trotz must be able to trust him defensively and he said he has seen improvement from last season, the coach’s first with the organization.
“He had no idea,” Trotz said. “He just skated around aimlessly. Now, he has an idea for sure.”
“The most important thing, aside from your play, is how willing you are to learn,” Ho-Sang added. “I hope they see that and they know it’s just the start of the year and I can grow a lot.”
Sign up for Newsday’s Islanders texts with a 14-day free trial at newsday.com/islestext.