By the Numbers: Calvin de Haan's NHL Debut

Come and get it.

It's reflective of the difference between forwards and defensemen, and between each year's top few players and everyone else, that 2009 #1 pick John Tavares has 145 NHL points while the #12 pick from that year debuted just last night.

New York Islanders fans haven't exactly waited with bated breath for Calvin de Haan's first NHL game -- his development has proceeded normally for a defenseman, interrupted by a couple of injuries -- but there has been a steady stream of napkin-sketched dreams musing over his future slot in the lineup.

The day for those dreams hasn't arrived, but last night de Haan became the latest from the Class of 2009 to make his NHL debut. (Coming into 2010-11, 30 players and eight defensemen from the 2009 NHL draft had already appeared. Those who debuted before him include teammates Mikko Koskinen and Anton Klementyev; this year Anders Nilsson also joined the crew and de Haan is now the 23rd 1st-rounder from 2009 to appear.)

The reservation about de Haan is his lack of size, physicality and "shutdown" qualities. The promise is his mobility, puck movement and vision. Much of the former can be learned as defensemen get older. The latter is the elusive skillset for which NHL teams spend first round picks.

Calvin de Haan's NHL Debut, By The Numbers

First Hit (of two): 16:29 of the first period, on Steve "tool" Ott along the left boards. De Haan did very nicely to angle off one of the league's more physical players.

First Plus: 16:38 of the first period. Just eight seconds after his first hit, the Islanders win possession, Kyle Okposo drives left and feeds Michael Grabner's foot for the tying goal.

First Shot on Goal (of two): 2:38 of the third period. With the score tied but the Islanders shorthanded, de Haan lets go of a slapper from about 60 feet.

First Missed Shot: 18:24 of the third. With the Islanders down by one and pressing for a late equalizer, de Haan's shot goes wide of the net as he and Milan Jurcina take turns trying to fire point shots that somehow find a home.

Ice Time, by Period: 1st - 3:35. 2nd - 2:29. 3rd - 6:57. Total: 13:01

Longest Shifts: In the third period, with the Islanders trying to tie it, de Haan had separate shifts of 1:15, 1:37 and finally, 1:27 with the game winding down. All came at even strength.

Overview

In the end, he received no powerplay time in his debut but officially 1:46 of PK time in that third period. His future is likely to include -- must include, really -- significant powerplay time, but Capuano eased him into his first game, then really leaned on him (in relative terms) during the third period.

It was great, of course, to see his parents on hand for the big night. It was good to see him log significant minutes with the game on the line.

More importantly, it was good to see the skills that are advertised -- insightful puck movement, and great patience with the puck even when fishing it out of his own zone (a contrast, it must be said, to the fire-it-off-the-glass-and-hope approach favored by Steve Staios, for whom de Haan filled in). It was also good to see him not get physically dominated, although that is something that will be tested over time, in the aggregate, rather than on one night of 13 minutes work.

De Haan makes some unconventional decisions with the puck. That's part of the artist's game and how puck carrying defensemen fool forechecking forwards -- by doing the unexpected. Some of them are risky and will result in mistakes and lessons learned. But some of them are dangerous (in a good way), worth the risk for the opportunities they will create the other way. The kind of breakout poise and vision the Islanders blueline currently has in short supply.

It's going to be a process. As he has readily admitted this season and re-iterated to Newsday yesterday:

"It's taken some time to adjust to the pro game."

With Mark Eaton and Andrew MacDonald both now "game time decisions" for Saturday night in Minnesota [update: and indeed, de Haan and Kevin Poulin have been returned to Bridgeport], this process is not one we'll likely see much of in the near term. Barring further injuries {knock-knock}, this probably won't be a Hamonic situation ... yet.

The jury will still be out on this player for quite some time, and one game is just a snapshot, if that. It's a big milestone but a very minor test. But it's one de Haan passed. Long way to go, but so far, so good.

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