The losses of Johnny Boychuk
and Travis Hamonic
haven’t stopped the Islanders from earning crucial points in the Metropolitan Division standings.
The Islanders have earned five of a possible eight points without Hamonic and Boychuk, including two wins over divisional opponents, largely because of the work of Calvin de Haan, who’s elevating his game and shouldering a big part of the load on the back end.
De Haan logged the most ice time on the team in the first three games after Hamonic’s injury, assuming Hamonic's spot on the top pairing with Nick Leddy. De Haan is averaging around 23:04 minutes per night, up from his season average of 20:45. His contributions aren’t going unnoticed, or unappreciated.
“It’s the best hockey he’s played,” Capuano said of de Haan. “He’s a top-pairing defenseman for our hockey team right now. He’s earned the minutes that he’s getting. He’s taking advantage of those minutes. He’s the reason that we’re having some success right now with his play on the back end.”
The Islanders defenseman isn’t logging easy minutes either, as he’s one of the team’s most-used penalty killers, second only to Boychuk. De Haan is averaging 2:28 shorthanded minutes per game this season, but over the past four games it’s jumped up considerably: 4:35 vs. Philadelphia, 3:03 vs. the Rangers, 4:05 vs. Vancouver and a staggering 7:03 against the Columbus Blue Jackets – a career-high. Only Hamonic (7:07 vs. CBJ in October) has played more shorthanded minutes in one game than de Haan dating back to the start of last season.
“He’s showing that he can be relied upon when the time comes,” said Boychuk, who was de Haan’s regular partner before his injury on New Year’s Eve. “We all know he is a good penalty killer and likes blocking shots, but he’s just been playing well in the absence of me and Travis, stepping his game up and it’s good to see.”
The Carp, ON, native leads the team with 113 blocked shots – fifth in the NHL – and de Haan's willingness to sacrifice his body is needed now especially, as Boychuk and Hamonic are second and third on that list, respectively.
While de Haan isn’t known for laying big hits, he made some noise against the Rangers on Thursday, throwing Jayson Megna into the Islanders bench in the third period. De Haan downplayed the hit, but said he plays a physical game, just without the pop that some of his bigger teammates bring.
“I like to think I’ve been physical all season. Maybe that just magnifies things,” de Haan said. “I’m not the biggest guy out there, so I’m not going to smash guys like that every game, but it’s about taking time and space away, being hard in front of the net and in the corners is how I want to play physically, it’s not necessarily knocking guys on their butts. It’s just being hard to play against.”
De Haan was drafted in 2009, but a series of shoulder injuries stalled the young defenseman’s path to the NHL. He assumed a full-time role during the 2013-14 season, but struggled at times during the 2014-15 campaign. De Haan said he didn’t think he was playing poorly, but that maybe some complacency crept into his game and that this year he’s playing with more urgency.
“I’m just trying be first to pucks and make the right play,” de Haan said. “I’m just trying to play my game and do what the coaches are asking me to do. I’m not trying to do anything out of the ordinary. I’m just trying to play my game, play solid in the D zone and clear pucks and block shots. Leddy and I are out against the top lines. We just have to try to shut them down and take their time and space away. On the offensive side just get pucks to the net and let our forwards crash and bang. I think we’ve been doing a good job of that so far.”
He’s been a stalwart for the Islanders defensively, but wants to contribute more offensively. He has a goal and six assists this season with virtually no power play time. While power play QB isn’t his role, playing on the top pairing lends itself to more shifts with the top line. In Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks, de Haan was out with Tavares in overtime and had a two-on-one with the Captain. He didn’t score, but he could find himself in those kinds of positions more often.
“It’s not all about the points and I know it’s not my role to play power play and stuff like that, but it’s nice to get rewarded here and there with a goal or an assist, so hopefully, some pucks start going in for me.”
De Haan recorded four hits and four blocks in 23:40 TOI against Vancouver. While his name wasn’t on the scorer’s sheet, that’s the kind of production that is raising his profile among Islanders fans and helping contribute in the standings.