Due to the nature of their goals (literally, a goal at each end), hockey and soccer have several similarities.
One of these is the subtle intelligence needed for a hockey defenseman or soccer midfielder to influence play by distributing the puck (or ball, grass having been found unsuitable for pucks) through seams to the attacking players, while also diffusing opponents' offensive forays by smart anticipation and quick counter-attacks.
It's one thing to see those narrow seams opening -- they close quickly -- and still another thing to actually hit them on a consistent basis. Players who do this combine a visual understanding of the whole surface and its moving parts with the speed needed to use them productively. To pick unfair extremes, Nicklas Lidstrom's incisive outlet pass is Mike Mottau's turnover. When sports poets talk about fields or rinks being a canvas, it's players like these who do the painting.
If Calvin de Haan will make it as a plus NHL defenseman, he will have to be that kind of painter. That doesn't necessarily mean compiling a lot of points (which for a D-man is very powerplay-dependent anyway), but it does mean being able to use his good skating and puck handling to consistently get play going the other way.
De Haan made his NHL debut this season for a game, but the alarm is that it was another year affected by injuries -- two shoulder injuries spaced out just well enough to get hopeful fans worried and a little impatient. It's not a pattern yet, but it's enough data points to get your guard up and knock him down our ranking as his Bridgeport counterparts rise. Never possessing a big frame or an overly physical orientation, his body will at least need to hold up to the rigors of NHL checking for him to continue progressing and be a success.
The vision thing -- that's always been in de Haan's arsenal and is a reason the Islanders selected him so high in 2009. The defensive thing is, as with his two fellow young Bridgeport D-men, something that's coming along.
For de Haan, that came partnered often with Ty Wishart, often against the tougher opposing lines. Sound Tigers coach Brent Thompson, quoted in the Connecticut Post toward the end of the season:
"All our defensemen have gone from riverboat gamblers to,'let's take care of our own end.'"
"The first month, we thought we were all forwards," Thompson said. "Now, the defensemen really realize, hey, defense first, and the offensive stuff will pay later. [Matt] Donovan's an example of that. Calvin de Haan has been great defensively."
Entering the playoffs, Thompson challenged his young blueliners to elevate their game and, though the series was all too short, he singled out de Haan as having "elevated his whole game."
How We Voted
We'll see where this goes. De Haan represents a mixture of caution and hope. Balancing all that, he ends up at # 13 on our list for now.
There is a friendly, healthy competition among him, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness to push each other to the NHL blueline. What was it Garth Snow said last month? ... "You couldn't say that a couple of years ago."
Panelists: CanadianIslesLifer making a return appearance, as well as most of the authors at LHH.
Note: For those LHH readers who sent their own selections in, JPinVA has them summarized in this FanPost. That one will be fun to measure against our panelists' results.
You can see which other prospects just missed our top 25 in this preview post.
- At #25 was 2011 pick John Persson
- #24 saw another Swede from 2011, Johan Sundstrom
- At #23, the irritant known as Justin DiBenedetto
- #22: Kirill Petrov, with an asterisk
- #21: Brenden Kichton, Western late bloomer
- #20: Anders Lee, loophole guy?
- #19: Big Scott Mayfield
- #18: Rhett Rakshani, Queen of Funk
- #17: Aaron Ness, Mini-Me Rising
- #16: Anders Nilsson, Towering Thor
- #15: Kirill Kabanov, now a Proven Winner(TM)
- #14: Nino Niederreiter, Historic Rookie Season
- Our September 2011 25U25 Poll Results
Disclaimer You'll See with Each 25U25 Post
To reflect the variety of ways you can place value on prospects with uncertain futures, we brought a range of philosophies to this: Some voters valued present talent/maturity more, some valued future potential more. All are averaged with the intent of capturing a moment in time in the evolution of the Islanders prospect pipeline.