The restrictor plates look as though they are finally coming off for New York Islanders youngster Josh Ho-Sang.
After four years of disappointments, eye-raising comments, and conduct that erred on the side of immaturity, the 22-year-old left winger is beginning to show that he belongs in the NHL on a full-time basis.
The Islanders are waking up on their west-coast road trip, which has now featured wins over a very good Colorado Avalanche side and, most recently, the struggling Arizona Coyotes which had “trap game” written all over it.
Ho-Sang recorded his first goal of the season — and his first since Nov. 22, 2017 — in the win over Arizona on Tuesday, a first-period one-timer from a near-impossible angle to tie the game at one and send the Islanders on their way.
“I haven’t played in the NHL in almost a year,” Ho-Sang said. “So it feels really good to score again, just get that good feeling.”
It was his first point in three games, but the Islanders are undefeated since slotting Ho-Sang into the starting lineup on Saturday against the Detroit Red Wings.
With a comparable game to fellow youngster Mathew Barzal, Ho-Sang is dynamic on the puck with the excellent kind of vision needed to open up scoring opportunities. It was put on full display in the AHL this season as he led the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with 20 assists before his call-up to the NHL.
Those intangibles were never really in doubt, though. Which was why countless Islanders fans campaigned for the organization to keep him up in the pros permanently for years now.
The problem was Ho-Sang’s maturity, which has caused some problems in the past.
New York’s old regime of Garth Snow and Jack Capuano took the risk of taking Ho-Sang native with the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft as questions about his attitude saw his stock plummet from a projected top-10 pick.
They took a no-nonsense approach, putting him on a short leash and quickly displaying it on his first day of camp in 2015, cutting him when he reported late.
Over the past two seasons under Capuano and Doug Weight, Ho-Sang appeared in a combined 43 games, tallying 22 points in the process while both campaigns ended early with demotions to the AHL.
It didn’t sit well with him, especially after being sent down and singled out by Weight last season as the Islanders’ defense sat at the very bottom of the league.
“I got sent down for defense and what are they in goals-against in the NHL?” Ho-Sang asked the Athletic’s Arthur Staple. “I only played  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.”
He continued, “If you’re going to send me down because of defense, it’d be nice to see other people be held accountable.”
Luckily for Ho-Sang, Weight and the former GM Snow were showed the door over the summer as the Islanders brought in Hall-of-Fame executive Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz, fresh off a Stanley Cup title with the Washington Capitals.
Once again, though, Ho-Sang was on the outside looking in as he was optioned to Bridgeport to start the season.
“I felt like they had their minds made up on what was going to happen and what the team was going to look like,” Ho-Sang said toward the end of October. “It’s OK. They had the whole summer to plan that. I don’t know if you watched any of the games, but I didn’t play a lot. It’s OK. It is what it is.”
Instead of being chastised by the organization, Ho-Sang was promoted to Bridgeport’s top line where he went on a tear, eventually leading to his call-up to the NHL.
He’s making the most of it as he’s helping the Islanders work their way out of an offensive slump. In the 14 games prior to Ho-Sang’s arrival, the Islanders were averaging 1.75 goals per game. Since then, they have improved their anemic power play while Ho-Sang’s offensive presence has played a part in the team recording 11 goals in their last three games.
And his efforts are being recognized.
“He’s really playing the right way,” Trotz said. “You can see he’s got real good hockey sense. He’s got the speed and the skill. If he keeps playing the way he is, it’s going to be real hard to send him anywhere.”