“Calvin de Haan will be a big part of the future of the Islanders, and he will only improve as he climbs towards the prime of his career”
In a year filled with disappointments, Isles fans haven’t had much to feel good about. Elimination from playoff contention is coming any day now, and all fans can do is look to the future and hope for better days. One such ray of hope is rookie defenseman Calvin de Haan.
The 22-year-old burst onto the scene at the end of November, when rookie Matt Donovan was sent down to Bridgeport. De Haan quickly made a name for himself and it didn’t take long for Isles fans to notice.
The same fans now cheering for de Haan were surprised when he was taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft. In his post-draft interview, de Haan admitted that it was a surprise to him as well, since he was the 25th ranked North American skater going into the draft.
Nevertheless, the Isles scouting staff felt he was talented enough to trade the 16th, 77th, and 182nd picks, and moved up to grab him with the 12th spot. Hindsight has proven the wisdom of that decision.
de Haan spoke about the draft and how it impacted him: “My draft year I put up almost a point a game, but after that I think I became more of a complete player. I started to really focus on becoming more of a two-way guy.”
Being a high-draft pick put him on the path to NHL success, but that path had a few bumps along the way. Shortly after he was drafted, a shoulder injury limited him to just 34 games for the OHL’s Oshawa Generals.
He returned to have two more productive years, one with Oshawa and another with the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, but bad luck struck again as his professional career was beginning to take off.
Only three games into the 2012-2013 season, de Haan dislocated his shoulder and was forced to sit out the rest of the year. He spoke about the injuries and how they affected his development:
“I was young when my first one happened, I was just 18. It was tough. Then the second one came along and that was even harder because I was playing pro hockey and I wanted to be in the NHL. Who knows, maybe I would’ve made the team after the lockout.
“I didn’t get the opportunity to try out for the team, which sucked. It was really frustrating… But what really helped was getting back on the ice and starting to shoot and pass and do all that stuff.”
Fortunately, de Haan was able to find a bright side to the process of rehab from the injury: “I don’t even know if I’ve hit my man strength, to tell you the truth, but I had a full year of working out and I think it benefited me in the long run.”
When teammate and close friend Ryan Strome was asked about how de Haan fought through his injuries, he joked about “his Xbox keeping him sane.” But Strome continued, “You learn from that. Obviously it gets harder every time you get another injury but I think you also learn how to come back from that. He’s done a great job and he’s been unbelievable this year”
Strome went on to discuss de Haan’s strengths, both as a player and a person: “On the ice, that first pass, he’s a great defender and such a great skater. It’s unbelievable how quickly he can get up the ice and make those plays. Off the ice he’s one of my best friends. He’s a lot of fun to hang around with, he keeps the mood light and he’s funny, but he works hard.”
Strome isn’t the only one who praises de Haan’s attitude. Isles head coach Jack Capuano has said similar things about the young defenseman: “He’s playing with confidence, he’s playing hard. He’s developed quite well.
“As far as his hockey sense, his intelligence, the ability to come to the rink every day and invest in himself to get better… That’s the mindset you need and that’s what he has. That’s why he’s having the success that he’s having.”
What stood out the most about de Haan this year was his demeanor. Calm and poised both with and without the puck, since arriving in the NHL he has never seemed either overwhelmed or outmatched.
He’s been a presence on the Isles blue line since his first game with the big club, and his responsibility has increased steadily every game.
Tuesday against Carolina he played over 27 minutes, and Thursday in Tampa he topped the 30-minute mark. He has a respectful 15 points in his 47 NHL games this season, including points in two of his last three games, and his advanced numbers are excellent. De Haan leads the team in 5-on-5 relative fenwick; and he’s second on the team in 5-on-5 relative corsi, behind only Lubomir Visnovsky.
When asked about his coolness on the ice, he replied that he’s the same way off the ice: “I’m not a high-strung guy. I’m pretty calm whenever, whether I’m stuck in traffic or playing hockey. My mom is the exact same way, I think I stole it from her.
“I try to just be calm and cool. That’s how I like to play the game and I don’t want to let anything faze me.”
Off the ice, de Haan shows true professionalism as well. He’s always available to talk to the media, even after tough losses. He never shies away from a tough question or an honest answer. Additionally, he’s happy to take time to give back to the community in a variety of ways.
In his short time as an Islander, he’s already played wheelchair hockey at the Visciardi School in Albertson and taken part in the Isles’ visits to children’s hospitals.
He spoke about being involved in those events: “They’re great experiences. The kids are so grateful that we show up and do that kind of thing and everyone’s so welcoming.
“We went and saw some pretty big Islander fans who were either sick or injured, and just to see the smiles on their faces was pretty heartwarming and overwhelming. Just to make someone’s day like that, it’s a great feeling for sure.”
As the Isles and their fans wrap up a disappointing season and look to the future, it’s important to focus on the positive things and the long-term plan that will continue to develop during the offseason. Calvin de Haan will be a big part of the future of the Islanders, and he will only improve as he climbs towards the prime of his career.