TORONTO - It's become something of a rarity in hockey for players to be outspoken, to publically question convention, to ask the simple question, 'why?' This goes doubly so for young players, especially those just drafted and who have not yet attended their first main NHL training camp.
Speaking with Josh Ho-Sang, drafted 28th overall in 2014 by the New York Islanders, is not unlike having a bucket of ice cold water dumped over your head. He wakes you up.
"The way that I'm portrayed is someone who's stubborn and never changes but I'm just someone who asks 'why,'" Ho-Sang said after participating in Day 1 of BioSteel Camp at St. Michael's College School Arena in Toronto.
"People who are very black and white don't like that at all because you're questioning the masses, you're questioning the way things have been done. That's why things change right? It's those types of minds and people (who ask why) that change everything, I don't understand how that's a negative thing anywhere."
After a solid debut season in the Ontario Hockey League as a 16-year-old with the Windsor Spitfires and finishing fourth on the team with 44 points, Ho-Sang followed it up this past year by leading his team in points (85) and assists (53) while tying for the lead in goals (32). But despite a quick and productive start to his OHL career, Ho-Sang was overlooked for Team Canada's Under 18 team in the spring, was not included on the 2013 U18 team to play at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and was not invited to Team Canada's World Junior summer development camp roster this year.
He asks - why?
"The fact that I haven't been invited to a camp, it's insulting," Ho-Sang said frankly. "I've done nothing to them (Hockey Canada). It's not like they invited me to U17 and U18 and I messed up at all that stuff. I haven't been invited back since my first year in the OHL in December. It's been a year and a half; I haven't been a part of any Hockey Canada stuff."
But he has a philosophy as to why invites have not been coming his way.
"They can't invite me to that stuff because they're afraid," he said. "If I go there and do well, then they have no reason not to put me on the World Junior team." Asked directly why Hockey Canada wouldn't want him on that team, Ho-Sang, looking puzzled, responded, "I don't know."
"If you're going to alienate an 18-year-old kid, like good job. Their job is development and progression of Canadian hockey. If I am a problem child, that means they don't like problems, that they have an issue with fixing things, that they like when things are easy. That actually means that they don't possess the ability to develop and that they are just taking players to fit their role that have been developed somewhere else."
Hockey Canada declined to comment on this story.
Ho-Sang's omission from consideration for Team Canada does not fuel his fire though. He clearly requires no validation for his ability. He prefers to look at it, not as confidence though, but as self-assuredness.
"It's not confidence, it's just that I know who I am and I'm comfortable with who I am," Ho-Sang explained. "I feel no need to change."
Prior to the 2014 NHL Draft, Ho-Sang told Sun Media and TSN's Steve Simmons that, "In three years, I'll be the best player in this draft. And I have no doubt about that." When asked if he still feels that way, Ho-Sang quickly responded, "Yeah."
"I believe in myself and I know what I can do," Ho-Sang continued. "I don't really care if nobody else does, I'll show them and that's all just a part of the process. At one point, people didn't know who Patrick Kane was, at one point people didn't know who Sidney Crosby was."
For now, Ho-Sang appears to have come to grips with the fact that he seems not to be at the forefront in the minds of those responsible with building various installments of Team Canada. He's just tired of always having to explain his omission.
"I don't play for Hockey Canada, I play for New York," he said. "I don't really care. Playing for your country is great; it's more a personal thing. It's kind of annoying though because I have people asking me all the time why I'm not there and not a part of that stuff but that's what it is. I think the only way I'd be on that (World Junior) team is if I played in the NHL, that's probably the only way I could get on that team."
And that will be his goal when he heads to his first NHL training camp next month with the Islanders. While Ho-Sang admitted he's not sure where he will be playing come of the start of the season, he is not planning on sitting back, just being happy to be there.
"What's my goal? Ho-Sang said, repeating the question. "It's to be better than everyone else there. I want to be better than John Tavares, I know he's an unbelievable player and I want to push myself against those guys because that's how you get there. If I'm going head to head and pushing toes with Johnny T, chances are pretty good that I'd make the team."
Most 18-year-old prospects will tell you how honoured they were to be drafted and what an unbelievable experience it was. Ho-Sang looked at it a different way.
"It's kind of annoying because everywhere I go, everyone's like 'oh this guy got drafted.' I don't even have a name though, I'm just number 28 (28th overall pick)."
Don't mistake it as cockiness or arrogance, though. Ho-Sang clearly appreciates the position he is in and understands there is a process to advancing to the NHL level that must be followed. He's just very sure he can do it.
When you really think about it, his logic is spot on. To hang in there with John Tavares is certainly the best way to force the Islanders hand come September. Whether he can do it is entirely up to him, just another step along the way in making Josh Ho-Sang a big name, closer to Patrick Kane and Sidney Crosby than the nameless No. 28 pick.