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Three Players the New York Islanders Could Take in 2020 NHL Draft

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NHL Draft logo

The New York Islanders will not be drafting in the first two rounds of this week’s NHL Draft, so excitement surrounding the event has been a bit muted. The Islanders first pick of the draft doesn’t come until the third round with the 90th overall selection.

With picks so late in the NHL Draft and none in the early rounds, the Islanders will be drafting players that could help the organization a few years down the line and won’t be making an immediate impact. That doesn’t mean the Islanders won’t find some quality players, but the later rounds in the draft are where selecting the right person can get a bit trickier.

During an appearance on Hockey Night in New York this week, ESPN NHL Draft analyst Chris Peters highlighted a few players that Islanders fans should know heading into Tuesday and Wednesday:

Wyatt Kaiser, D, Andover Huskies

The 6’0″, 173 lbs defenseman might be a stretch for the Islanders with their first pick coming at 90th overall, but the 18-year-old high school product is one that Peters spoke very highly of. Kaiser recorded 34 points (nine goals, 25 assists) in 25 games this year with Andover. He added another nine points (two goals, seven assists) during the postseason.

“I’m not sure Wyatt Kaiser will be there, but he’s a very talented defenseman. Great skater, good athlete,” Peters said about Kaiser, who he ranked 87th on his ESPN draft rankings. “Played in Andover this year and got his team to the state tournament in Minnesota. … He’s got good mobility. He makes good decisions with the puck.”

Kaiser has committed to play at the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season.

Blake Biondi, C, Hermantown High

The reigning  Minnesota Minute Men Mr. Hockey Award winner, Biondi was a dominant player at the high school level. In 25 games this season, Biondi recorded 76 points (37 goals, 39 assists) and averaged 3.04 points per game for Hermantown. His success at the high school level earned him a spot at 63 by NHL Central Scouting on their rankings of North American skaters, was listed at 90 by Elite Prospects and 98th by ESPN.

According to Elite Prospects, “anticipation is his bread and butter, swooping into passing lanes and creating turnovers. He finds most of his offensive success near the crease, digging for rebounds, jamming in pucks, and acting as a screen-tip threat.”

Peters described his physical profile as that of a power forward but believed he still needed some refining.

Antonio Stranges, C/LW, London Knights

Stranges may be one of the most offensively skilled players listed here. Stranges’ game has been described by Elite Prospects as “captivation, frustration, and awe: three emotions that London Knights forward Antonio Stranges inspires, sometimes on the same shift.” The knock on Stranges has been his consistency and his play in his own end.

In 61 games this year, Stranges only has 19 goals and 40 points which is a bit disappointing for a player of his skill level. Stranges had been in contention to be a first-round pick, but he has slowly slipped down the NHL Draft rankings.

“He didn’t have a great year in London. Needs a lot of work in a lot of different areas,” Peters said. “He’s an incredible skater. A very unique skater. He’s a bit on the smaller side. But he’s the kind of guy where it’s like ‘hey if we  take a stab late there’s enough skill, enough talent there that if we let him develop and see where he goes we’ll be able to get him into our system and try to reign him in a little bit.'”

Stranges was ranked 48th by Future Considerations and 56th by NHL Central Scouting for North American skaters.

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New York Islanders

It’s Time: Free Josh Ho-Sang or Move On

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Josh Ho-Sang

Enough, already. The New York Islanders and GM Lou Lamoriello have made their point. It’s time to free Josh Ho-Sang. Play him in the NHL or let the young man pursue opportunities elsewhere.

#FreeJoshHoSang

Tuesday, the Islanders avoided arbitration with Ho-Sang and signed him to a $700,000 NHL contract, or $225,000 in the minors.

It’s been a long fall for the 2014 first-round pick (28th overall).

My hockey career has been as varied as it has been enjoyable. From a syndicated radio show in the friendly confines of the NHL’s largest fanbase to Pittsburgh, then to the minors, back to Pittsburgh, and eventually creating National Hockey Now.

After 20 years, I’ve seen almost every situation.

I’ve had dinner with players who were supposedly bad apples or struggling to adopt the NHL way. They are rarely the people reflected in the public portrayals. Usually, it’s a misunderstanding.

I’ve met young men being drafted and wanting nothing else for their life but to light the lamp in the greatest hockey world in the league.

After their big day, I’ve sat with those same players on long bus rides and in locker rooms. I’ve heard their frustration as organizations heap tough love with a shovel, usually because the player doesn’t adequately cover their own zone or don’t get their nose dirty enough.

Or doesn’t bear the tough love with a smile and a gee golly acceptance.

In his first 43 NHL games, Ho-Sang had six goals and 16 assists, which is nearly .5 points per game. There are a lot of NHL players who cannot boast such totals. And Ho-Sang has more to give.

Despite his initial choice of numbers (No. 66), for which I will forever associate with mine and Ho-Sang’s childhood hockey hero, Mario Lemieux, I root for him to break the stranglehold the New York Islanders have placed upon his career.

Conform or else!

For some players, the answer is “or else,” not because they’re misanthropic or contrarian, but because they know they can help in other ways, and what is asked of them is as foreign as the Chinese alphabet.

Ahem, Phil Kessel. You may have heard from your Pittsburgh Penguins friends that Phil has two Stanley Cup rings?

Until Kessel and his coaches clashed, Kessel enjoyed a rebirth because someone appreciated him and let him be him. The situation eventually soured, because Kessel is a bit of a contrarian, but would either side trade those Cups?

Ho-Sang’s story is, unfortunately, not uncommon. I’ve sat at Denny’s on a Sunday morning after long bus trips and looked at players whose heart weighed 20 pounds because all they want is to play in the NHL, and they don’t truly understand why they’re banished to the minors.

They bounce to the minors, exiled from their dreams until they conform to the visions of an NHL coach or GM who demand something different than they’ve ever been.

It’s the equivalent of those snotty couples on HGTV who “love” the home they’re viewing until the wife invariably lists two dozen changes and hundreds of thousands of dollars of upgrades. You want to scream, “Don’t buy the house!”

He’s Back! Josh Ho-Sang Returns to Islanders on 1-Year Deal

But I can turn the channel, hopeful that I’ll never again be in such a situation.

The New York Islanders bought Josh Ho-Sang, full well knowing they were getting a skilled player with rough edges. Did they think they could miraculously make him someone else?

#FreeJoshHoSang

One player you may remember (but I won’t name), who later became a bit notorious, looked at me over his stack of eggs and pancakes in a tiny ECHL city, shook his head, and muttered a few expletives. You don’t need direct quotes to get the gist.

He bounced around the minors for a couple of years, finally got his shot in the NHL in his mid-20s, punched a few opponents hard enough to get a new contract, and performed well enough to stick around for a few years before cashing in across the pond.

But he never lost that bitterness. It changed his career because his drafting team wanted him to be someone else, and they felt they needed to send him a message.

Three other members of that team were also high-round picks. They too were sent to the minors to receive their tough love.

One soon after bolted to Russia. Another succumbed to personal demons and another exclaimed something similar to, “Take this job and shove it.”

That NHL team sure proved its point, didn’t it?

I’ve met Josh Ho-Sang and players like him. I gravitate towards them because I feel a kinship with fighting the establishment.

The National Hockey Now family, including this coverage outlet, is the birth of raging against an obtuse machine, which didn’t understand the changing world and the wide range of additional skills available to it.

Ho-Sang’s game is clearly changing and not for the better. Years of being told he must change have taken a toll. He’s no longer the strident kid who knew he could play in the NHL. He scored only two points (1g, 1a) in his most recent 10-game stint in 2018-19.

Last season, he was even banished from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers while Lamoriello allowed his camp to facilitate a trade. Eventually, Chris Lamoriello played peacemaker and Ho-Sang was loaned to San Antonio.

Wouldn’t you have a salty ‘tude if you were trapped by a team which neither likes nor releases you?

At 24-years-old, Ho-Sang is no longer a “prospect.” He had 13 points (4g, 9a) in just 22 games split between Bridgeport and San Antonio of the AHL last season.

Trust me, the NHL conformity standards are brutal. In hockey circles, it’s OK to break a player until they conform. It’s time for that to end.

The young man of color already has a harder road than most, just to get to the NHL. It doesn’t need to be any harder. The New York Islanders should finally decide. They can promote the best of Ho-Sang and let coach Barry Trotz work with the worst, or they can punish him for the worst and live without the best.

Either way, whether it’s NHL ice, or free agency, it’s time. For Josh Ho-Sang and for the New York Islanders. #FreeJoshHoSang

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Bridgeport Sound Tigers

He’s Back! Josh Ho-Sang Returns to Islanders on 1-Year Deal

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Josh Ho-Sang

If you thought Josh Ho-Sang’s time with the New York Islanders was over, guess again.

The Islanders and Josh Ho-Sang came to terms on a 1-year contract extension on Tuesday and avoided an arbitration hearing which had been scheduled for Friday. The short-term deal is worth $700,000 if he plays in the NHL and $200,000 if he ends up in Bridgeport, according to Elliotte Friedman who first reported the news on Tuesday morning.

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Ho-Sang has had a rocky history with the Islanders since the organization drafted him 29th overall in 2014. The now 24-year-old forward has struggled to crack the Islanders lineup and his outspoken nature has often caused himself headaches.

Josh Ho-Sang requested a trade last season and was told by Islanders general manager not to report to AHL Bridgeport while they worked to find a place to send him. The naturally skilled forward did end up reporting to Bridgeport after the Islanders failed to move him and they eventually loaned Ho-Sang to St. Louis’ AHL team in San Antonio.

Ho-Sang has appeared in 53 NHL games with the Islanders and registered seven goals and 17 assists in that span.

Both the Islanders decision to send Ho-Sang a qualifying offer and then Ho-Sang’s decision to file for arbitration surprised many people. Lamoriello sounded perplexed several weeks ago when he was asked about it during a media conference call on Zoom.

“I’m sure you’re all aware that he filed for arbitration, which I was very surprised at,” Lamoriello said at the time. “We’ll have to see what the future brings.”

It’s unclear what role the Islanders envision for Ho-Sang going into next season.

In addition, the Islanders also announced that A.J. Greer had signed a one-year contract as well. Greer was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche in a trade that saw the Islanders send Kyle Burroughs to the Mile High City.

Greer had been a restricted free agent.

Fellow RFA defensemen Mitch Vande Sompel and Parker Wotherspoon signed two-year contract extensions on Tuesday as well.

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Free Agency

What Will Mat Barzal’s Next Contract Look Like? | NYHN+

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Mat Barzal of the New York Islanders

It is the question that is on every New York Islanders fans’ mind. When will Mat Barzal be re-signed by the Islanders and what will that contract look like?

The 23-year-old Islanders star is due for a pay raise and the team is under a major cap crunch at the moment with just $8.9 million left for next season to work with to re-sign Barzal, fellow restricted free agent Ryan Pulock and possibly some unrestricted free agents. The NHL’s flat salary cap for the foreseeable future also throws a rather unique twist into the already complicated Barzal equation.

Right now the Islanders priority is clearing cap space so that they can work out a deal with Barzal. As has been reported here and various other outlets, Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Andrew Ladd and Leo Komarov are all contracts that could be moved to free up space.

The Case for the New York Islanders to Sign Anthony Duclair

All of those carry a sizable cap hit and general manager Lou Lamoriello needs to clear at least one or two of those to have some wiggle room to work. That is what has held up the rest of the Islanders offseason plans, including re-signing their most valuable piece.

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