As this weekend’s 2014 NHL Draft approaches perhaps the biggest question is where Windsor Spitfires forward Joshua Ho-Sang will land?
Most scouts agree that Ho-Sang has first round talent – a natural goal scorer with great hands, vision, playmaking skills, agility and speed. Still, on the eve of the draft it’s anyone’s guess which team will select him and in what round. In its final draft rankings, Canada’s TSN.ca listed Ho-Sang as the 30th among North American and European skaters, a 10-slot drop from the sports website’s March ranking.
He was ranked 18th in the NHL’s Central Scouting midterm list and slipped to 22nd in their final survey. Still, TSN Scouting Director Craig Button wrote that Ho-Sang “Continues to grow as a player. Excellent hands and can make plays in tight and is very difficult to get the puck from. He can make plays that very few are capable of. A dynamic type player. One of the most highly skilled players in draft.”
But Button’s assessment hasn’t stopped the naysayers from saying their nays about Ho-Sang.
Some of the negatives are physical: Listed at a generous 5-11, 176-lbs he’s considered undersized by some hockey people. But being short and light didn’t stop him from tallying 32 goals, 53 assists in 67 games for the Ontario Hockey League Spitfires. He’s scored 129 points in 130 career OHL regular season games. Defense isn’t his forte, though his plus/minus was a plus-26 in the 2013-14 season.
Then there are the questions of conformity. In a team sport the stresses playing the right way, Ho-Sang is pure offense and makes no apologies for it. He loves the puck and apparently it loves him because its hard to get it off his stick. He’s a human highlight reel who dangles, dekes, scores and enthusiastically celebrates. One of his tweets says “A goal without a celly is like peanut butter without jelly.”
“A majority of skill players love to dangle, everyone loves to score, set up nice goals,” he told Sportnet’s Damien Cox. “You kind of have to find that in-between because not every play can be a highlight reel, you can’t beat two or three guys every shift. You have to pick your spots. A lot of that comes with maturity and understanding when to o it and not to do it.”
And Ho-Sang talks proudly about his talents and who he is, the son of a Jamaican father of Chinese descent and a Jewish Chilean mother with
Russian and Swedish bloodlines. In interviews, he’s talked about being ready to be part of the changing face of the NHL, joining the likes of Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, players who’ve also been under hockey’s sometimes harsh microscope.
“Because of all the backgrounds I have, I could bring a lot of interest in the game, for sure,” he told Cox. “I have all the pieces to bring a lot of people together. It’s cool to have the ability to inspire people, for sure.”
Ho-Sang hasn’t been afraid to mention race. He told The Toronto Sun “I think color definitely plays a factor in perception.” said Ho-Sang.
“When I start dangling, my GM calls me a Harlem Globetrotter,” Ho-Sang told The Sun’s Steve Simmons. Why am I a Harlem Globetrotter? Analogies get related to basketball all the time with me. I don’t play basketball. I’ve never played basketball. I’m a hockey player. Why are they doing that?
Apparently all of this – coupled with a six-game OHL suspension for a play that caused London Knights defenseman Zach Bell to suffer a broken leg - might be too much for some NHL teams. Simmons reported Tuesday that “numerous teams have Ho-Sang on their Do Not Draft List.” Simmons wrote that only 18 of the NHL’s 30 teams interviewed him at the NHL Combine.
“And if I picked him, my scouts would all revolt,” the chief scout told Simmons. “He doesn’t fit what we’re looking for.” So much for the sports mantra of taking the best available player with a pick.
The criticisms haven’t dampened Ho-Sang’s spirit or confidence going into the draft this Friday and Saturday at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers.
“If I was a general manager and had first pick in the draft, I’d pick me No. 1,” he told The Sun. “In three years, I’ll be the best player in this draft. And I have no doubt about that. I know myself. I know the other players. I believe in my ability. There are guys ranked ahead of me who are nowhere near me.”