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Defensive Turnover: Islanders recall Calvin de Haan, demote Matt Donovan to Bridgeport

Is this a simple one-for-one swap, or will the Isles give de Haan a shot at a bigger role?

Maddie Meyer

On U.S. Thanksgiving, the New York Islanders sent defenseman Matt Donovan back to Bridgeport and recalled Calvin de Haan in his place.

It's not clear how long this might have been under consideration, but after last night's neutral zone turnover -- a mistake, but hardly a monumental or uncommon one -- the optics look like Donovan is paying for one play. Surely that's not the case, but the holiday timing and "one mistake can cost you [the game]" quote by Jack Capuano last night makes it look harsh.

More realistically, the Islanders have long seen de Haan as an equally promising if not better prospect, but injuries have prevented him from getting much of an NHL chance to date. His missing almost all of 2012-13 bumped him back down the pecking order, but he, Donovan and Aaron Ness -- also currently with the Islanders after a recall earlier this month -- make up the trio of "next up" prospects who need to make a case for their next contract. Each saw initial debuts in 2011-12 (de Haan's was the shortest, just one game), and their entry level deals expire this summer.

So De Haan was the next in line for recall for Wednesday's game if the banged-up Andrew MacDonald or Thomas Hickey couldn't play. Now he gets that recall anyway, though at Donovan's expense. Will he simply take on the same role they gave Donovan -- a swap of prospects -- or is this a more strategic rethinking of their blueline?

The two swap places around Radek Martinek, a scratch on Wednesday night who continues in the role of "veteran you don't mind scratching for games at a time" while they evidently try to deploy and evaluate Ness, Donovan and now de Haan (and, ultimately, play them in the AHL rather than have them watch too much from the NHL pressbox).

After 22 Games, What's Next for Donovan?

As for Donovan's first extended run in the NHL (he also played three games in 2011-12), the curious thing is how little they used him on the power play (1:10 per game average), which was in theory a reason he made the club.

The Isles used Donovan carefully at even strength, and he definitely loses some body positioning battles around the net that you want an NHL defenseman to win, but with Mark Streit moved on and Lubomir Visnovsky hurt, it stood out that the Islanders used the already minutes-stressed Andrew MacDonald (3:11 per game average) as the power play point man instead of Donovan.

Of course, MacDonald happened to score from the point on the power play Wednesday night, but that was just his third point in nearly 80 minutes of total power play time so far this season.

Meanwhile, Donovan's overall rate stats were fine, and his even strength offensive forays were the kind of "activate" threat it sounds like the Islanders coaching staff wants from their blueline.

So, is this a case of letting just a few visible mistakes stand out -- and because he's a rookie -- in that NHL tradition of punishing rookies for mistakes their older peers do just as often? A simple waiver/prospect/roster management move, using the injuries as a chance to evaluate all three pending restricted free agent young blueliners? A decision that they need a more all-around defenseman like de Haan the way the current blueline injuries stack the chart?

It's hard to predict what they foresee for Donovan now since the offensive role he had in the AHL was diminished here in the NHL, even when injuries would have created an opening. Meanwhile, though billed as an offensive type around the time of his 2009 draft, de Haan has been a more all-zone/all-situations player and might -- if the Isles are bold -- even be a candidate for the penalty kill.

On the bright side for frustrated Islanders fans, we get a look at de Haan, whom injuries have long made more myth than reality; further, their deployment of their current defensemen looked like it needed a fresh approach. On the down side ... was Donovan really the problem?