National Hockey League scouts saw lots of Oshawa Generals games early in the season for one reason.
But they stayed through the end of the season for another one.
Thanks to a strong debut OHL season, Oshawa defenseman Calvin de Haan gave the talent evaluators someone to watch all year long, even after the Generals traded phenom John Tavares.
In 68 games, de Haan had 55 assists and 63 points, good for seventh among all OHL defensemen and second among rookie blueliners. He followed that with a strong performance for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship, leading the team's defensemen with six assists and a plus-6 rating.
NHL Central Scouting has the 5-foot-11, 175-pounder ranked No. 25 among North American skaters for the 2009 Entry Draft.
It's been a tremendously rapid climb for de Haan, who this time a year ago was playing for Kemptville in the Central Junior 'A' Hockey League.
"I came out of nowhere," de Haan told NHL.com. "I wasn't expected to get drafted as of a couple years ago."
He's certain to get drafted now, though.
"Calvin is an impressive young guy," one Eastern Conference GM told NHL.com. "He hasn't played a lot of high-level hockey coming from the league he came from, but this is a great year for him. This is one of the things that you look for in players, when have they made their biggest strides as a hockey player on the ice, and I think Calvin is a guy that did that last year."
De Haan started his season playing second fiddle not only to Tavares, but fellow high-scoring defenseman Michael Del Zotto, a 2008 first-round pick of the New York Rangers. When both were dealt to London in January, Oshawa became de Haan's team.
"When John and Delly (Del Zotto) both left, I had to step up to the plate and run with it, said de Haan. "It was my team at that point."
Oshawa coach/GM Chris DePiero told NHL.com that de Haan's strong play made him feel better about including Del Zotto in the deal.
"We felt more comfortable, absolutely," he said. "That's a compliment to Calvin and his emergence."
"I think he benefited from the trade of John Tavares in that he was able to assert himself more," Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "He's going to be a factor both in the major juniors next year and he might even crack an NHL lineup coming up."
De Haan said he didn't have to change his game too much following the Tavares trade, but he did have to learn fairly quickly to keep his head up a bit more.
"The other teams' forecheck, maybe they'd dump the puck in my corner versus the other corner so they could maybe try to run me through the boards, something like that, try to finish their hits on me," said de Haan.
"He definitely made me a lot better when I was practicing against him. He's a special player that's really going to surprise a lot of people next year and the years after that." - John Tavares
The extra attention didn't bother de Haan, who just kept doing the same things he had been doing all season.
"I think so far this year I stayed consistent playing my game," de Haan said, and the numbers bear that out -- in 39 games before the trade, he had 4 goals and 38 points; in 29 games after, he had 4 goals and 25 points.
Tavares saw the growth in his former teammate from afar.
"I think he was really counted on by Chris and (assistant coach) Rich Ricci there to be the anchor on defense and gain some experience for next year," Tavares told NHL.com. "He played great, did a lot of great things on a team that struggled down the stretch. For him to still do what he did and see how he was defensively and put up good numbers for a defenseman as a rookie, it was a great season for him."
Tavares said one thing he missed about Oshawa was going against de Haan in practice.
"He wasn't easy to go against because he's a guy that's pretty mobile and pretty quick," said Tavares. "He's got a very easy stride, looks very easy. He's not an easy guy to get around because he's got a good stick, as well. He definitely made me a lot better when I was practicing against him.
"He's a special player that's really going to surprise a lot of people next year and the years after that."Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org