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De Haan, Nelson set to break through with Islanders

Thursday, 07.11.2013 / 9:59 AM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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De Haan, Nelson set to break through with Islanders
Calvin de Haan and Brock Nelson are eager to take the step from being prospects to full-fledged NHL players, and each figures to get that opportunity with the Islanders this season.

Calvin de Haan has been coming to the New York Islanders' development camp since 2009, not long after he was the 12th player taken in the 2009 NHL Draft. Brock Nelson joined him a year later after the Islanders chose him with the final pick of the first round of the 2010 draft.

Both players were on hand again at Nassau Coliseum this week, but neither has any plans to be back for the 2014 camp. It's not that they don't enjoy getting reacquainted with future teammates. It's just that they're eager to take the step from being prospects to full-fledged NHL players.

De Haan's problems have been injury-related. He didn't have to show up at this year's camp, but opted to come in order to prove to the team that the dislocated shoulder he sustained last October while playing with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League is completely healed.

"I feel better than 100 percent," said de Haan, who has been plagued with injuries since the Islanders traded up twice to select him 11 picks after taking John Tavares with the No. 1 pick. "Obviously, last year was a drag. It happens to some young players and they bounce back. Hopefully I'm one of those guys. There are no problems with my shoulder."

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Tavares already is a star -- he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy last season. De Haan has played all of one game in the NHL. So for now, he laughs when a reporter suggests he could serve as the official "greeter" because of his experience at development camp.

"It's fun to see the new faces, and old faces as well," he said during this week's camp. "It's a good way to see where I am against the new guys."

But when training camp starts in September, de Haan still will be one of those "new guys," battling for a job on the Islanders' blue line.

"I like to think I'm up there, challenging for a spot," he said. "Even though I only played three games last year, I still think I can hopefully make the squad this season. If I have to go down to Bridgeport, that's OK -- I just want to play hockey.

"I think the coaches know what kind of game I play and what I bring to the table. But at the same time, they want to see if I can hold up against the NHL size and speed."

That's a big consideration for a player whose size and strength always have been a question. De Haan turned heads in his first training camp -- he was the last player cut from camp before the start of the 2009-10 season. Since then, he's had a litany of shoulder injuries, including the dislocated left shoulder that ended his 2012-13 season.

He's added more than 20 pounds of muscle since being drafted, and the difference is noticeable. Now he has to prove he can stay healthy.

"Calvin's had ups and downs; he had some injuries last year," coach Jack Capuano said. "But he's strong. He's a high-character guy, and he's been through some tough times. But there are other guys who've battled through [injuries] and had a good career in the National Hockey League.

"He's healthy, he's positive, he's confident. He wants to be a part of the New York Islanders next year, and we want him to be, as well. We want to see our young kids succeed, so he'll come into camp and try to earn a spot."

If he does, he may well be reunited with Nelson, who spent all of last season at Bridgeport and finished his first pro season with 25 goals and a team-high 52 points. Nelson also got into one Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Islanders, and said the taste of the NHL has whetted his appetite for more.

"I like to think I'm up there, challenging for a spot. Even though I only played three games last year, I still think I can hopefully make the squad this season. If I have to go down to Bridgeport, that's OK -- I just want to play hockey."
-- Calvin De Haan

"It was a bit of a whirlwind," he said of being recalled for Game 6 of the Islanders' opening-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. "It was a great experience. To get out there and play in a playoff game was pretty surreal. I just tried to take everything I could out of it. It was a great experience. The game's a lot faster, even from the AHL to here."

Nelson spent two seasons at the University of North Dakota, and after scoring 28 goals as a sophomore in 2011-12, he turned pro. He said his season in the AHL not only enabled him to add strength -- he weighs nearly 20 pounds more than he did when the Islanders drafted him -- but to learn what life as a professional hockey player is like.

"I think it was good in terms of development," he said. "It's a much different lifestyle compared with college. The game is faster-paced; guys are bigger, faster, stronger in all areas of the game. It was good to get that year of experience under my belt -- it was a good step for my development."

Capuano, for one, has been impressed with Nelson's growth.

"He's a guy who has really developed," Capuano said. "He came out of North Dakota and spent time in the American Hockey League -- put up really good numbers. More importantly, just his body and the way he's matured, his strength; he played a lot of hockey down there. He's a guy who's really come along for us."

The Islanders are coming off their first playoff appearance in six years and have built a core of impressive young talent. It's possible de Haan and Nelson could be teammates on Long Island -- or be back in Bridgeport together.

"There's going to be opportunities there," Capuano said. "It's a matter of what Garth [Snow, general manager] does during the offseason and where we stand."

Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares