Josh Ho-Sang has taken to the NHL about as quickly as he can skate through the neutral zone.
That's exactly where the Islanders rookie was on Tuesday night, picking off a pass at center, circling back to his own blue line and carrying the puck into the Hurricanes' zone before dropping a pass to John Tavares for the OT winner. Ho-Sang finished the game with a goal and an assist, giving him six points (3G, 3A) in his first eight games.
There is a learning curve in the NHL, but with his speed, skill and skating ability, Ho-Sang won't have to learn how to keep up.
"A lot of times when you see these guys come up, whatever their skill set might be, you can always see a little, this is the NHL, deer in headlights," Interim Coach Doug Weight said. "I haven't seen that. He fits in physically, his skating ability, his skill, it looks like he's been in this league for a long time."
Video: NYI@CAR: Tavares buries game-winner in overtime
It's early, but so far Ho-Sang looks as advertised, a gifted playmaker with the ability to create chances for himself and others and is exciting to watch, even when he's celebrating. He can weave and dangle through guys and has the passing ability to match his vision. It's a skill set that led to 210 assists and 292 points in junior and 36 points (10G, 26A) in 48 AHL games and a late-season call-up. It's those attributes that led Weight to put him out with Tavares to start overtime in a must-win game in Raleigh.
"What always stands out obviously is his ability to handle the puck and his quickness," John Tavares said. "Then you add the tenacity on top of that."
The 6-foot, 173 lbs. Ho-Sang is small by league standards and has already had some punishing shifts in his first eight games. Against Vancouver, Ho-Sang was hounded by Ben Hutton along the boards, but took the punishment, kept fighting for the puck and then initiated contact with Sven Baertschi. It's not the first image that Ho-Sang's name invokes, but that compete level is there in tandem. Tavares said Ho-Sang isn't afraid to get his nose dirty and he's got the cuts to prove it.
Video: Ho-Sang reflects on first career goal
So far the NHL experience has been everything Ho-Sang hoped it'd be. He likes playing amongst the best players, in the best arenas and on the biggest stage. Sure, the game is faster and the competition is better, but as the rookie points out, the guys he's playing with are too.
It's still surreal to face off against his favorite players like Dallas' Tyler Seguin or Chicago's Patrick Kane or to watch Tavares on a daily basis. Even moreso to score on an NHL goalie for the first time, an experience that left the verbose Ho-Sang searching for words as he sat in the team's vintage leather jacket denoting player of the game.
"It's the most fun I've ever had in my life," Ho-Sang said. "When you get the puck in open space and you can skate up the ice, that's crazy. It blows my mind, it's what I've been dreaming about since I was a little kid. As long as I'm bringing that compete level and Dougie is happy with me, then I'm the happiest person in the world."
Video: CAR@NYI: Ho-Sang, Beauvillier team up for pretty goal
Ho-Sang's first home game was on Monday night at Barclays Center and the crowd was eager to see the electric winger. A group of fans in the upper bowl even sing his name to the tune of "Olay!" and there's a buzz when Ho-Sang has the puck. In what became a disappointing loss for the Islanders, Ho-Sang provided a highlight tapping in an Anthony Beauvillier feed.
The 21-year-old is appreciative of the support from Islanders fans be it online or in person. Ho-Sang's been a popular Islander even before playing his first game, drawing big crowds for pictures and autographs at the team's July rookie camps each summer. It's still sinking in that people have his name on the back of a jersey.
"I think the fans have been great," Ho-Sang said. "The fact that someone would take the time to do that and spend their hard-earned money on me is something that's very special to me and I'll never let that slide."
Video: Ho-Sang's Debut A Family Affair
The talented center isn't a finished product, but he's improving year-over-year and credits his stop in the AHL for preparing him to enter the NHL the way he has.
"I've had a couple people tell me it doesn't look like I'm out of place and that's attribute to the AHL and my coaches," Ho-Sang said. "Coach Thompson, Bogie [Eric Boguniecki], Carks [Matt Carkner] and Vazzy [John Vazzano], they did everything with me every day and they pushed me and made sure that I was ready for this opportunity."
Thompson said Ho-Sang - and fellow 2014 first-rounder/Bridgeport roommate Michael Dal Colle - improved his play away from the puck, but also his work habits. Ho-Sang became a fixture in Thompson's office to watch video with the coaches after practice and that work ethic has carried over. Ho-Sang was at Northwell Health Ice Center the day after the Islanders returned from their western road trip - a day off for the team - to watch video with Weight. The Islanders coach said he'd be there at 12:30 and when he arrived Ho-Sang - who 18 months ago was late for the first day of training camp - was already there waiting for him.
Video: NYI@CAR: Ho-Sang collects blocked shot, buries PPG
"We watched the game together and he just wants to help us and be great and wants to learn," Weight said. "He's done some things in the past that people have a stigma on him and they leave it."
"Josh just had to grow up a little bit in certain areas," Weight added. "Drive for the game is there, he's a wonderful kid, he's bright, he's a good kid."
He's showing signs of maturity on the ice too, content with carrying the puck across the blue line to dish off and allow teammates to set up, rather than try to go end-to-end himself like in his junior days. It paid off in a big way on Tuesday night.
"I want more from him and I want to keep getting more and more," Weight said. "And I think he's got it."