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De Haas battles in Penticton

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Defenseman James de Haas is playing the BCHL this season with the Penticton Vees. (Photo by Garrett James Photography)

Red Wings prospect James de Haas was asked about the nobility particle in his family name this week.

“Nobody ever gets it right,” said de Haas, in a phone interview with

So what is ‘de’ story?

Like de Gaulle or da Vinci, the de Haas family prefers to recognize the lower-case letter. However, whether right or wrong, it isn’t a battle that de Haas cares to wage, at least not now.

This month, de Haas began a different crusade – one that potentially has greater consequence to his hockey future – when he packed his things and moved to Penticton, British Columbia.

De Haas, who was the Red Wings’ sixth-round selection in last June’s NHL draft, stayed close to home last season, spent the year with the OJHL’s Toronto Lakeshore. Though he led the Patriots defensemen in scoring, with 10 goals and 19 assists in 45 games, de Haas was ready for a change of hockey scenery.

To maintain his U.S. college eligibility, de Haas chose to stay in Junior A, but in a league that could provide better competition, which would help him prepare for the rigors of the collegiate game.

Jumping to the British Columbia Hockey League was an easy decision, de Haas said, even though it’s the first time he’s lived away from his family’s home in Mississauga, Ontario.

“From what I heard from scouts, coaches, people that I know who played there, it’s just a better league to play in as far as development goes,” said de Haas, who will attend Clarkson University next fall. “This is my last year before I go into school and I figured that it would be better to be in a place where I would development more and get the experience of living away from home.”

Considered to be a solid puck-moving defenseman, the 6-foot-4 de Haas has already produced two assists and a game-winning goal in overtime in six games for the Vees (5-1-0).

“I think my strengths are making the first pass out of the D-zone and I like to join in the rush a little bit,” de Haas said. “I think working the power play is another one of my strengths.”

While it’s only the first month of the BCHL season, the 19-year-old feels that he has already seen measurable improvement from a year ago.

“So far, I’ve improved on my battling down low and my D-zone coverage,” de Haas said. “It’s been something that I’ve really been focused on since I’ve been out here.

“You have to battle hard if you want to play here and the coaches have made that apparent. They’ve said that they don’t care about your track record; they don’t care where you’ve committed or where you were drafted. If you’re not going to battle and play hard down low than you’re not going to get the opportunities to play on the power play and stuff like that.”

If de Haas is to become the lockdown defender that he’s projected to be by many pro scouts, then his physical strength must continue its current course.

“One of the things that I’m always working on is my leg strength,” he said. “When you get higher and higher with each level you go it’s really important. Even since I’ve been out here I’ve tried to workout as much as I can after my team workouts. If I have a free 45-minutes or an hour I try to get a little workout in or go on the ice and maybe do some foot-work (drills). I’m always working on improving my strength.”

With the physical aspects of his game on the rise, attending the Wings’ development camp in Traverse City provided a glimpse to future expectations.

“I got to see some of my competition for the next few years, all the older guys,” said de Haas, of the week-long camp last July. “It showed me what level that I need to be at when I get a few years older. It was definitely good to get that experience under my belt and what I learned there on-ice and off will certainly help me.”

In hindsight, Clarkson certainly could have benefited from a player of de Haas’s caliber this season after the Golden Knights learned they will start the ECAC campaign without sophomore defenseman Kevin Tansey, who was savagely assaulted in Ottawa this summer.

While de Haas is excited to begin college life in Upstate New York, he’s equally eager to getting his college playing career underway.

“In speaking with the coaches, I really liked what they had to say,” de Haas said. “I just thought it was a good opportunity there, so I decided to take it and until this day I’m really happy about it.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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