Fall can be a spectacular time of year. The leaves change, the weather turns colder, and hockey prospects all over North America and Europe start lacing up their skates and hitting the ice. Much of the well-deserved attention from scouts, NHL general managers and fans alike becomes focused on those players who were recently drafted into the NHL or those who will be eligible for the upcoming draft at season’s end.
But as the eyes of the hockey prospect world watch the players of tomorrow, Hockey’s Future likes to take a look a little further down the line, beyond just the “tomorrow” of the upcoming draft or the graduation of players from the junior to the professional ranks. In Beyond Tomorrow, a monthly feature that takes an in-depth look at a player not yet eligible for the NHL for at least another year, readers will be introduced to the younger players who will someday make their mark on the hockey world. Beyond Tomorrow will bring the readers closer to these prospects with backgrounds, assessments, interviews and projections of the stars of the future, and also keep readers updated on the progress of those players featured in the past or in months ahead.
Josh Ho-Sang, a 16-year-old winger playing in his initial OHL season with the Windsor Spitfires, first burst onto the hockey prospect scene last year after a remarkable performance in the All-Canadians camp for the nation’s best 15-year-old players. The Thornhill, Ontario native not only shone in the brief NHLPA documentary of the event that the sponsors put together, but dazzled with a shootout goal that won the camp’s final game. Ho-Sang displayed his tremendous puck-handling skills as he dangled his way through the slot, deked the netminder to his knees and then lifted a shot over the outstretched goaltender’s right shoulder.
After that camp, one of his teammates, Aaron Ekblad, would head off to the OHL a year early on a rare age exemption that allows 15-year-old's to join the major junior league. Windsor general manager Warren Rychel suggested that Ho-Sang would be another player capable of gaining the exemption and compared his talent level to players like Steven Stamkos (TBL) and former Spitfires' star Taylor Hall (EDM). Rychel called Ho-Sang the most dangerous players one-on-one with the goaltender that he had ever seen.
But Ho-Sang decided not to pursue the exemption and chose instead to stay home and play another year of midget hockey in the Toronto area. One season and a Midget championship later, Rychel drafted Ho-Sang fifth overall in the OHL Priority Selection.
Ho-Sang will be eligible for the NHL Draft in the summer of 2014 where he will again be expected to be a top pick in what is shaping up to be another stellar draft class. His combination of puck skills and remarkable skating ability sets him apart from most of the rest of his class.
Ho-Sang currently plays on the Spitfires’ second power-play unit, and often will carry the puck up ice from his own zone, using his speed and agility to gain the offensive blue line and force penalty killers to react. His maneuverability through traffic with the puck glued to stick is a pleasure to watch, and his balance and agility allows him to make moves at full speed that most players would not even try. Weighing only 160 pounds, Ho-Sang does not play a physical game, but he has shown a willingness to take a hit to make the play. Most of the time, opposing players have a difficult time putting a body on him, though, and often end up pulling Ho-Sang down instead of catching him with a clean hit.
Ho-Sang needs to improve his defensive play, but his instincts in his own end are good and he plays a smart game. At this point in his hockey career, he looks like a player waiting to activate on offense instead of putting in the dirty work in his own end to recover possession from the opponents. Still, Ho-Sang will go deep into his defensive zone to retrieve pucks, and has not yet been relied on as a defensive forward for Windsor. He gets a majority of his zone starts on the offensive side of the puck, and sees little to no time on the penalty kill.
Windsor coach Bob Boughner recently benched Ho-Sang for a game in order to send him a message about team discipline. Ho-Sang responded with a three-point game upon his return to the lineup, and has been on a point-per-game pace since. At times it appears that Ho-Sang is still learning how not to be the best player on the ice, and to trust his teammates more. When he does, he makes solid reads and dishes out passes that are on target and easy to receive, and he often helps create good scoring chances.
Ho-Sang is an electrifying player with a bright future. With 17 points in his first 21 OHL games, he is producing at a high level for his age and is among the top 10 scorers among OHL rookies. ISS ranked Ho-Sang seventh overall in the November listing of 2014 draft-eligible players. As his strength and defensive awareness improves, and his overall play begins to catch up to his offensive gifts, Ho-Sang will become a player known throughout the hockey world as more than just an incredible shootout goal scorer.
Looking Beyond Tomorrow
Blake Clarke is a 6’1”, 190-pound left wing who has 21 points in 24 games for Brampton. Clarke has good vision with the puck and is a solid skater.
Michael Dal Colle, a seventh-overall bantam pick playing center for the Oshawa Generals, has scored eight goals and 10 assists in his first 25 OHL games. Dal Colle plays an intelligent, two-way game and knows how to finish and put the puck in the net.
Ivan Barbashev is currently the QMJHL’s top scoring player from the 2014 draft class. The Russian left winger has five goals and 13 assists for the Moncton Wildcats.
Sam Reinhart, the third of the trio of Reinhart brothers that includes oldest brother Max Reinhart (CGY) and the middle brother Griffin Reinhart (NYI), is ISS' second-ranked 2014 prospect. He has scored five goals with 12 assists in 18 games for Kootenay. Reinhart played for Kootenay last year as a 16-year-old center (he missed the cutoff for the 2013 draft by only a couple of weeks), and put up 62 points in 67 games. He is an impact player, and could eventually be drafted higher than his brother Griffin.
Jake Virtanen will battle with Reinhart for a top spot in the draft. The first-overall pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, Virtanen is off to a slow start for the Calgary Hitmen, with just four goals in 18 games. Virtanen likes to drive the puck to the net and make things happen in the offensive zone, and based on his limited play with the Hitmen last season (four points in nine games), his scoring totals should start to improve.
Brycen Martin already stands 6’1” at a young 16 years old (he has a May birthday). He is an offensive-minded forward who has the kind of skills and skating ability that saw him selected second overall in the WHL Bantam Draft, just behind Virtanen.
Ryan MacInnis, son of former NHL great Al MacInnis, plays on the left wing for the U.S. National Team Development Program. MacInnis is currently ranked 16th overall in the ISS rankings.
Nick Schmaltz plays right wing for the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, where he has scored three goals with ten assists in 18 games this year.
Oskar Lindblom plays in the Swedish U-18 league for Brynas. He currently has scored 18 points in 13 league games.
Kasper Kapanen comes from a hockey family. His grandfather played five seasons in Finland’s top league. His uncle, Kimmo Kapanen, played goal for more than 20 years in top leagues in Sweden and Finland and is currently the general manager for KalPa in the SM-Liiga. Kasper’s father is the longtime NHL forward Sami Kapanen, who scored 189 goals during his NHL career.
The next edition of Beyond Tomorrow will feature Jordan Thomson, the 6’0” defender for the Kamloops Blazers who was the fourth overall pick in the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft, the highest-ever selection for the Blazers. He is a great skater with high-end skills and is currently ranked 11th overall by ISS for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Follow Brian Fogarty on Twitter via @Brian_Fogarty