EDMONTON, Alberta — There’s been no easing into the NHL for Josh Ho-Sang. All he needed to do was look across the ice in each of his first two games to see which lines the Stars and Hawks tried to send out every time Ho-Sang’s line hopped the boards.
“It’s crazy looking across the ice and seeing your heroes. I’ve looked up to Tyler Seguin the majority of my life, and Patrick Kane. And those two guys are lining up on the opposite side each game,” Ho-Sang said. “Just focusing on the task at hand is the biggest thing for me. I’ve noticed teams are trying to jump me with their skill lines. I played a lot in Dallas against Seguin and [Jamie] Benn, a lot in Chicago against Kane and [Artemi] Panarin. It’s just about being responsible and making good puck decisions because those guys are exceptional players.”
The Islanders didn’t bring Ho-Sang up last week to make being responsible his No. 1 priority. General manager Garth Snow could not swing a deal for Avalanche center Matt Duchene before Wednesday’s trade deadline and the price was high for the pending free-agent wingers who were available, so Snow decided to make Ho-Sang, the 28th pick of the 2014 draft, the Islanders’ big forward addition at the deadline.
Ho-Sang doesn’t have a point yet and Sunday he was on the ice for three of the Flames’ five goals, including one in the third period when Ho-Sang jumped to try and avoid an onrushing Travis Hamonic only to wipe out Hamonic with an inadvertent hit, leaving the Flames to go down four-on-one and score.
But the skill is undeniable.
“He’s a guy that makes a lot of great little plays and you have to be prepared,” said Andrew Ladd, who has been Ho-Sang’s primary linemate along with Brock Nelson. “You just try to get adjusted to it and build.”
Ho-Sang had an impressive training camp in the fall and was one of the last players sent down to Bridgeport before the season began. His ride with the Sound Tigers included a few healthy scratches, all but one tied to performance and not anything away from the ice (he was late to a game to cause the other one), and Ho-Sang was named AHL Rookie of the Month for February on the day he was recalled.
“I have a certain standard for myself and when I meet it, I’m content. When I’m not it’s frustrating,” Ho-Sang said. “Just finding it is the biggest thing and I’ve never had trouble finding it, it’s just when. It’s just doing the same things, doing what the coaches want from me and mixing in my game with that.”
Doug Weight has noticed that Ho-Sang, unlike some other high-end talents in their first few NHL games, has not been caught off-guard by the speed of the game. He’s had very few plays where a bigger, faster NHLer closed on him before he had a chance to make a play — his one-touch, cross-ice feed for Ladd in the first period in Calgary Sunday was a thing of beauty and nearly got the Isles on the board first.
“I think my skating helps a lot, makes it a little easier to adapt,” Ho-Sang said. “I can keep up with my feet, so keeping my head in it is the biggest thing. I’ve been really focused for the games. In preseason I wasn’t playing against Jamie Benn or Patrick Kane — I’ve never played against guys like this. These guys are in a playoff hunt and I want to make a difference but I also want to be responsible and I want Doug to be able to rely on me in all areas. If I do the little things now, once I get more comfortable it’ll just blossom on the offensive side.”