When injuries struck Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk and young gun Adam Pelech, Calvin de Haan was pressured to do a lot of maturing and act as a leader for the Islanders on defense. De Haan was up to the task, and exceeded the expectations of not only the Islanders’ coaching staff, but fans as well.
De Haan spent much of last season, his second season with the Islanders, paired with Travis Hamonic on the team’s second defensive pairing. He was solid, but never spectacular. De Haan often played soft along the boards, constantly losing puck battles, getting beaten in front of the net, and looking pretty uncomfortable handling the puck and heading the break out. He doesn’t flash a lot of offense, but played decent defense for the team during their breakout season.
One of the main questions for the Islanders entering the 2015-2016 season was the back end of their defense. Hamonic, Leddy and Boychuk were the clear cut top three defensemen, but after that, the outlook was not as positive. Many hoped that de Haan would handle his role as a top-four defenseman better this season and become more physical, but that was no guarantee. On the third pairing, many still complained about Thomas Hickey being undersized and the departure of Lubomir Visnovsky for retirement, which left the door open for any combination of Brian Strait, newcomer Marek Zidlicky, and maybe even the anticipated Ryan Pulock. All three were major question marks.
With many questions about the back end of the defense, the growth of de Haan was essential to this team’s progress. Now, beyond the midway point of the season, it has become evident that de Haan has done exactly what he needed to do to get this team to the next level. Exacerbated by injuries to Boychuk and Hamonic, it became even more essential for de Haan to answer the call, which he has done very successfully. De Haan stepped up to play on the first line pairing Leddy during the absence of several of his teammates and he was a force.
His physical play has seen a sharp increase and he silenced the talk that he plays “soft” when he put the Rangers’ Jayson Megna into the Islanders bench, along with many other huge hits. Even better, he appears to be completely comfortable possessing the puck. In the past, de Haan would immediately dump the puck rather than possess it and wait for a play to develop. His anxious style of play also led to turnovers and served as a testament to the growth he needed to undergo. Lately, de Haan has been a wizard possessing the puck, finding smart outlets on the breakout and demonstrating a ton more outward confidence with his body language.
The Islanders and their fans have got to be very satisfied with the progress Calvin de Haan has made. The team played pretty well considering that two of their top defensemen were hurt, picking up huge wins against the Dallas Stars as well as their rival New York Rangers for the second time this season.
Although this setback was upsetting, a positive that has emerged is that it gave de Haan a chance to play more big minutes. His experience will only make the defense as a whole better when he returns to his old role as a much more developed and polished player.