What, exactly, do the New York Islanders have in rookie defenseman and former first-round pick Calvin de Haan? It’s a legitimate question, if not a particularly answerable one.
The 22-year-old no. 12 selection from the 2009 NHL Draft—yes, that 2009 NHL Draft—hasn’t even played 25 games in his Islanders career, so any attempt at projecting his future in the League amounts to calculated dart throwing.
But, this is the Internet. And where else but the Internet can people make absolute, all-encompassing assumptions based on overanalyzing what they most recently saw? Exactly. (Thanks, Al Gore!)
So prepare yourselves for 1,200 words on what de Haan has been, what de Haan is, and what de Haan will be, based mostly on his play over the past four games. Because everyone knows that hand picking your sample sizes allows you to draw the most accurate conclusions.
[/ducks objects being thrown by the #FancyStats crowd]
In all seriousness though, now seems as good a time as any to remind people that de Haan has top-flight NHL potential, and that his injury history is just that: history.
Because when a freshman NHLer—particularly a D-man—bends time and space like this in an attempt to create the world’s first on-ice singularity, there’s an innate tendency to overanalyze because ZOMG DID YOU GUYZ C THAT!!!!!!111
What de Haan Has Been
The consensus among NHL scouts was that de Haan projected as a late-first-round or early-second-round talent in 2009, despite his winning the 2008-09 OHL rookie of the year, and his being named to both the OHL All-Star team and the CHL Top Prospects Game that season.
The thing about scouts’ consensuses, though, is that they don’t always hold sway in NHL front offices. Which is exactly what happened when Islanders general manager Garth Snow traded up twice during the first round to take de Haan at no. 12 overall.
Snow was embarking on the type of rebuild that comes after a team decides to basically self-inflict a nuclear winter, so to say that the de Haan pick was met with skepticism by the media and the fans would be understating the reality of the situation.
But, Snow was confident in de Haan’s ability and his future with the organization. Snow saw an offensively capable, puck-moving defenseman with great balance and vision; de Haan’s breakout passes alone were cause enough for scouts to double check their notes in conjunction with their roster sheets when he was on the ice, making him the type of player Snow saw slotting in as the Islanders’ 20-minute-per night, power play quarterback right away.
To Snow’s credit, he and the Isles’ scouting department saw in de Haan what the rest of the NHL-watching public saw Sunday night in Dallas: a top-pair blueliner with enough offensive skill to make you wonder if he was a centerman in a past life.
To date, however, most of the talk around de Haan had centered on his time away from the ice. All the untapped potential in the world couldn’t keep the injury bug from biting de Haan during his time in the AHL as a member of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He played 56 AHL games during the 2011-12 season—and one NHL game that same year—but only 3 in 2012-13 due to a dislocated shoulder.
His second shoulder surgery was a death knell for the career of one of the organization’s most highly touted prospects. At least, if you were listening to the blogosphere.
To a fan base understandably wary of injury prone players (read: DiPietro, Rick), de Haan couldn’t avoid losing some credibility with the Long Island faithful despite only having worn an Isles jersey once during the NHL regular season.
But, after being one of the final cuts in this year’s Islanders training camp, it appeared that de Haan was ready to make the leap that the front office had been patiently waiting for since 2009.
What de Haan Is
The consensus among people who watched the last four Islanders games is that de Haan is good at hockey. More specifically, he’s good enough at hockey to allay the fans’ fears that the Isles might never have a no. 1 or no. 2 defenseman capable of filling the void left by Mark Streit—or more recently, by Lubomir Visnovsky.
de Haan’s emergence on the blue line over the past four games especially has proven that the Islanders had an eye toward the future when they drafted him. Along with picks like Matt Donovan, Scott Mayfield, Ville Pokka, Ryan Pulock, and Griffin Reinhart, de Haan is slated to form the core of the Isles’ defense for years to come.
So, his arrival on the national stage shouldn’t be a surprise, except that it kind of is.
Calls for Snow to trade de Haan—being that he was largely written off as injury prone and wasn’t a world-beater during his time in Bridgeport—went unheard by the front office, and now the decision to keep the 22-year-old is paying dividends.
Just look at the box scores: de Haan has averaged approximately 22 minutes per game over his last four, recording one goal and five assists over the same span. Although he’s not logging much power play time at the moment—which is a post for another day—his offensive production will likely earn him time on the man advantage sooner rather than later.
de Haan is the Islanders’ best prospect they’ve been forced to play penciled into the lineup this season. Sure, Donovan was the rookie defenseman who made the roster out of camp; Brock Nelson logged time in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals last year and has been steady up front this season; and Ryan Strome generated all kinds of buzz with his long-anticipated arrival on Long Island.
But, de Haan is starting to outshine them all.
He’s fourth among Isles defenseman in scoring, despite having played less than half of the games than the players above him on that list; he’s leading all Islanders rookies in average ice time per game since being called up; and his corsi rel is 6.8%—meaning the team performs that much better with him on the ice than without him—the highest rating on the entire team, regardless of position.
Is de Haan the answer to which D-man prospect will take up residence next to Travis Hamonic and give the Islanders the one-two punch on the blue line they’ve been looking for since the start of the rebuild? Snow certainly hopes so.
Is it too early to tell? Probably. Then again, maybe not. Sure, the entirety of his point production has come during a four game span, but: DAT FOUR GAME SPAN DOE, as the kids say.
What de Haan Will Be
The consensus among his teammates is that de Haan has the kind of ability that makes the game that much easier for everyone else wearing the same jersey. So basically, set your DVR for de Haan’s Hall of Fame induction speech in roughly 20 years.
(Ed. note: that sentence may or may not be hyperbole.)
Islanders captain John Tavares was on the ice against the Dallas Stars with 1:24 to play in regulation on Sunday night when de Haan was busy doing de Haan things, and was quoted afterwards as follows: “It’s just great awareness by Cal…I had the easy part, to put it in. Just kind of go to the net hard, find some open space and happy the puck came to me.”
So, to be clear, one of the NHL’s hottest players—Tavares was recently named the first star of the week—and perennial Hart Trophy threats categorized his game-winning goal as “easy” not because of his elite skill, but because of de Haan’s on-ice awareness.
In the interest of full disclosure, Tavares is always a team-first guy; it’s always “we” not “I” coming from him in postgame interviews. But, the look on his face after that goal says more than just “my teammate helped me out.”
Not to read too much into it—but actually, to read way too much into it—that look showed just how excited Tavares is to have a passer like de Haan on his team. Not to say other players on the Islanders can’t pass the puck, but if some is good, more is better.
Snow’s plan has always been to rebuild the Islanders from the net outwards, and his drafts have reflected that strategy. Anders Nilsson, Kevin Poulin, de Haan, Donovan, and Travis Hamonic are all NHL-ready selections in that mold.
But with de Haan, the Islanders might have gotten their most capable all-around blueliner, given his steady increase in performance since being called up to the big club on Nov. 30. And to think it only took four years and several hundred rumored trades involving the Carp, Ontario native before Isles fans could truly appreciate what de Haan brings to the ice.
If de Haan can keep up the level of play he’s shown recently, there might be a spike in no. 44 jersey sales at the Isles team store before the Olympic break. Which is exactly how Snow planned it.
Follow me on the Twitter (@MichaelWillhoft) so we can talk about whether it would take de Haan one attempt or two attempts to pass a puck through the eye of a needle.