SYOSSET, NY— Calvin de Haan skated to John
Tavares’ right as half of the Islanders prospect complement participated in an end-of-session blue line drill. The two players stood out among the bright uniform variegation assembled on the Iceworks rink.
There was no public press conference to welcome de Haan. That treatment was reserved for Tavares, the No. 1 overall draft pick. But for the Islanders to parlay a youth movement in postseason success, de Haan’s maturation will also be critical.
On the draft’s first night in Montreal, the Islanders added a scoring center in Tavares and an offensive-minded defenseman when the club traded up to the 12th spot to select de Haan. Despite having just four professional practice sessions, the 18-year-old de Haan said prospect camp has been a valuable experience.
“Definitely the speed of the game,” de Haan said about the biggest surprise in camp. “You have to think and react a little quicker than you do in juniors, but I think I’m adapting to that pretty well so far.”
De Haan established a reputation an offensive-minded defenseman for the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals, scoring eight goals while adding 55 assists in 68 games. But his 165-pound frame could be detrimental to guarding NHL forwards and might require more time in juniors or at the AHL level before the Ottawa native can help the big club.
At 6-0, de Haan does have the frame to bulk up and said worked with Oshawa’s coaches to improve his positioning to become a more complete player. As a result, de Haan finished third in the OHL’s Rookie of the Year balloting.
“I’ve definitely been working on that, especially in the latter part of the season,” de Haan said. “The coaches were stressing it. I’m not bad defensively but I know I can really improve on it.”
When the Islanders hold regular training camp in September, de Haan will be able to talk with Mark Streit, the Isles All-Star defenseman who showed he can be a steady defender while contributing in the offensive zone.
De Haan will be able to vote in his first election in November after just turning 18 last May. That means the left-handed shot will have plenty of time to fulfill his potential even if he doesn’t call Nassau Coliseum home in the upcoming season.
“Realistically, I don’t think I’ll be here next year,” he said. “It’d be great to play in the NHL but I think the ice time I’ll get in juniors next year will benefit me. I would love to play here next year but it will be tough, for sure.”
Tavares and de Haan were teammates before, with the OHL goal scoring record holder starting the season in Oshawa before being traded to the London Knights. The Islanders are organizing team activities like trips to ballgames and a Jones Beach concert for its young players. Off the ice, the 44 players on the prospect camp initial roster can socialize and be friends. The competition kicks up on the ice. De Haan said the dichotomy of making friends in the dressing room while also competing for roster spots and in some cases a future in hockey can be a strange experience.
“You’re enemies on the ice in a way,” de Haan said. “But off the ice, everything is cool. If you took a hit from one of your buddies, you just brush it off later. Everyone is trying to impress and battle out there.”
Kyle Okposo was the marquee name in prospect camp in 2007 and Josh Bailey took over the mantle last season. Tavares is this year’s must-watch recruit. Both Okposo and Bailey’s performance were harbingers of a rookie year NHL call-up, giving the new players hope of following a similar career trajectory.
To acquire de Haan, the Islanders traded the 16, 77 and 182 overall selection to move up four spots. Even the blue liner said he was surprised to be selected that high and will now try to reward the Islanders faith.
“I was ranked later first round the whole season and to be picked 12th was a shock to me,” de Haan said. “I’m going to have to run with it now and hit it out of the park.”