Josh Ho-Sang is Already Elite

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Well, at least at a couple of things.

The other day, I was reading this article by Ian Tulloch on The Athletic about how John Tavares may actually be underrated, because I hate myself. A large portion of the article revolves around tracking data from Ryan Stimson's Passing Project and Corey Sznajder's All Three Zones Project, highlighting Tavares' exceptional performance in both the passing data and zone entry and exit data. One statistic that Tulloch emphasizes is Controlled Zone Entry Percentage, which measures the proportion of a player's offensive zone entries that are carry-ins rather than dump-ins. Another statistic used is Shot Assists Per 60 Minutes, which measures the amount of times that a players' passes directly lead to a shot from their teammates. In the article, Tulloch lists all of the forwards who were in the 95th Percentile of each stat over the past two seasons, intending to highlight Tavares' presence on both lists and his elite company. The lists are as follows:

95th Percentile of Controlled Zone Entry % 95th Percentile of Shot Assists Per 60
Aleksander Barkov Aleksander Barkov
Alex Galchenyuk Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar Artemi Panarin
Artemi Panarin Connor McDavid
Connor McDavid David Krejci
Evgeni Malkin Evgeni Malkin
Jack Eichel Henrik Sedin
Jaromir Jagr Jack Eichel
John Tavares Jaden Schwartz
Johnny Gaudreau Joe Thornton
Jonathan Toews John Tavares
Joshua Ho-Sang Jonathan Toews
Mathew Barzal Joshua Ho-Sang
Nathan MacKinnon Leon Draisaitl
Nick Schmaltz Mathew Barzal
Nico Hischier Mike Ribeiro
Nikita Kucherov Nick Schmaltz
Patrick Kane Nicklas Backstrom
Phil Kessel Nikita Kucherov
Sidney Crosby Patrick Kane
Taylor Hall Ryan Johansen
Vladimir Tarasenko Sidney Crosby

While the focus of the article is on Tavares, it was two other names on those lists that were of note to me: Mathew Barzal and Joshua Ho-Sang. While it's very nice to see Barzal up there with those names, I doubt it's really surprising to any of us that he's in such elite company.

On the other hand, Ho-Sang's inclusion on both lists is quite interesting, given that he struggled to make the lineup for one of the worst teams in the NHL last season. Only 14 forwards placed in the 95th percentile for both stats over the last two seasons, and other than Ho-Sang, they're all superstars. Or Nick Schmaltz. It should be noted that Ho-Sang has played only 43 NHL games over the past two seasons and that his results may be unsustainable at a larger sample size (although, as Stimson finds here, shot assists are already fairly predictive after just 10 games).

I know there are some off-ice (and defensive zone) factors at play with Ho-Sang, but it really is ridiculous how reluctant the Islanders have been to play a 22-year-old who is capable of putting up the types of numbers only elite players do. To see how Ho-Sang's other statistics stack up against his elite company, I put together the following table of assorted stats from the past two seasons. As mentioned above, take caution of Ho-Sang's relatively low sample size, as he's played a less than a quarter of the minutes of most the other guys on the list. All data is from either Corsica or Natural Stat Trick.

Player GP TOI Rel CF% Rel xGF% G/60 A1/60 P1/60 SOG/60 iCF/60 PenDiff/60 Giveaways/60
Aleksander Barkov 140 2070.683333 3.59% 4.42% 0.81 0.84 1.65 7.65 11.53 0.64 1.94
Anze Kopitar 158 2411.15 1.03% 1.38% 0.70 0.67 1.37 5.50 10.25 0.35 1.77
Artemi Panarin 163 2559.083333 6.75% 10.17% 0.75 1.01 1.76 6.87 13.95 0.54 1.92
Connor McDavid 164 2658.933333 3.72% 14.64% 1.15 1.13 2.28 8.96 14.13 1.24 1.99
Evgeni Malkin 140 1978.833333 1.10% -0.16% 1.21 1.09 2.30 7.85 12.25 -0.30 2.85
Jack Eichel 128 1927.1 1.02% 1.69% 0.84 0.65 1.49 10.06 15.97 0.53 2.18
John Tavares 159 2333.816667 4.36% 3.56% 0.85 0.59 1.44 7.87 14.40 0.39 3.06
Jonathan Toews 146 2113.083333 3.17% 1.32% 0.71 0.74 1.45 8.26 13.06 -0.14 1.85
Joshua Ho-Sang 43 542.4666667 1.42% -3.42% 0.55 1.00 1.55 3.43 6.75 0.88 4.20
Mathew Barzal 84 1144.9 6.35% 5.15% 0.84 1.21 2.04 6.87 10.59 0.73 3.20
Nick Schmaltz 139 1785.2 -1.29% -2.04% 0.77 0.77 1.55 4.67 8.97 0.24 1.58
Nikita Kucherov 154 2322.183333 3.91% 3.25% 1.16 0.80 1.96 8.27 15.37 0.47 2.38
Patrick Kane 164 2650.566667 0.22% -3.40% 0.91 0.86 1.77 9.08 15.73 0.18 1.40
Sidney Crosby 157 2383.116667 5.19% 5.90% 0.96 0.76 1.71 8.59 14.02 0.15 2.69

As you can see, there's a few areas where Ho-Sang fits in fine with this cohort, and others where he does not (other than the obvious lack of games/minutes). Like everyone on the list other than Nick Schmaltz, Ho-Sang has been a positive possession player relative to his team over the past two seasons. Ho-Sang ranks dead last among the group in goal scoring and personal shot generation.

This is not surprising to those of us who have watched him play, as Ho-Sang has been extremely pass-first in the NHL and really does not shoot much at all. It's one of the main areas he should work on improving and it's probably best that he's not put on a line with other playmakers. Despite this, Ho-Sang fits into the list just fine by Primary Points per 60, thanks to the fifth best primary assist rate in the group.

The area where Ho-Sang excels the most relative to the group is Penalty Differential (Penalties Drawn - Penalties Taken), where he ranks second to only Connor McDavid on a rate basis. Then of course there's his turnovers; Ho-Sang commits the most on the list by a wide margin. Additionally, while this is not shown in the table, Ho-Sang only ranks in the 80th percentile for the percentage of defensive zone exits with possession, which is the lowest of anyone other than Nikita Kucherov, who is in the 79th percentile. Of course, that is still very good, but it suggests there's still room for improvement in Ho-Sang's transition game.

Another talent of our former captain that Tulloch highlights is his ability to generate one-timers for his teammates. As shown in this post by Stimson, one-timers are the second best shot after deflections, and setting up one timers is both fairly repeatable and the best predictor of primary assists going forward. As shown in the following visualization, Ho-Sang also appears to be elite at setting up one-timers for his teammates.


In fact, Ho-Sang is in the 100th percentile for setting up one-timers for this past season, meaning he set up more one-timer shots on a per-minute basis than anyone in the league. Another thing to note from that graph is his Dangerous Assists per 60 minutes, shown in the top right corner. Dangerous Assists are simply the sum of Royal Road (cross-crease) shot assists and Behind the Net shot assists as these two types of passes are more likely to lead to goals than the others. Moreover, Dangerous Assists are more repeatable and a better predictor of future primary assists than past primary assists, as shown here by Stimson. By this measure, Ho-Sang ranked in the 94th percentile.

We should be especially cautious with these statistics, however, as they are based on just 13 games that Ho-Sang played. Still, they are yet another example of the larger trend we are noticing here: Josh Ho-Sang has demonstrated some elite playmaking abilities in his brief time in the NHL.

All of this makes it more disheartening that Ho-Sang seems likely to start the year back in the AHL. Given what happened last season when he was in the AHL, I'm not sure he's likely to be on the top or even the second line. Hell, who knows if he'll even be in the lineup every night? It especially stinks that a lot of the criticism against him seems to be racially influenced and we would get to see him get the same chances so many others get if he were white. I don't think Islanders management is out to get Ho-Sang by any means; where there's this much smoke, there's bound to be some fire, but I doubt a white player would be written off like Ho-Sang seems to have been for the same transgressions.

Barring any injuries, inserting Ho-Sang into the NHL lineup will require Barry Trotz to sit one of our many expensive 4th liners. Hopefully the new regime of Trotz and Lamoriello is open-minded about Josh Ho-Sang. To not play a 22-year-old this talented and let him develop his deficiencies against NHL competition in what is likely to be a rebuilding season would be a damn shame.

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