The Future Of The Isles Defense

Calvin de Haan (NikeTraining/Flickr)

In 2009, the Islanders selected John Tavares with their first overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft.  But there was another pick that they made that took a lot more effort in obtaining. The Isles moved from the 26th selection all the way up to 12th after completing a series of trades to draft Calvin de Haan, a defenseman who was teammates with Tavares in the OHL with the Oshawa Generals and put up 8 goals and 55 assists for 63 points in 68 games played.

With all of the focus on Tavares, Hedman and Duchene, I couldn’t say that I knew much about de Haan. Although I anticipated the Islanders drafting a defenseman since they were very weak in that area after spending the previous years drafting forwards, Zack Kassian was someone that was on my radar. A right wing that put up 63 points in 61 games with the Windsor Spitfires. Guess what? He was drafted 13th overall by the Buffalo Sabres.

de Haan was clearly someone that was on top of the Islanders depth chart as seen by the moves they made to get him. He recently inked his first NHL contract with the team, the typical 3-year entry level deal. It doesn’t come to a surprise; there was a strong possibility that he was going to make the Islanders team as an 18-year old straight out of the draft, having been one of the final cuts in the pre-season. But the Isles felt it was best to send him back for another year of Junior hockey. This past season he played for the Generals again, recording 24 points in 34 games (5 goals and 19 assists). Unfortunately, his season was cut short due to season-ending shoulder surgery that he will be rehabilitating on Long Island during the off-season. He also was a member for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships this year. He was one of the top defenseman paired with Travis Hamonic, another Islanders draftee that plays in the WHL. It is very likely that we will hear about Travis putting his John Hancock on an entry level deal in the near future as well.

With one young defenseman having already earned a contract, and another one probably close to following suit, what does this mean for the Isles defense?

The Isles contain the 5th overall pick in this year’s draft. Assuming GM Garth Snow retains the 5th pick and does not move up or down via trade, there are going to be several potential defenseman going in that range with Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin likely to go in the top-two (not in any particular order). Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley may be available. So could Brett Connolly, a forward with top-six capabalities. But let’s assume the Isles go for one of the three defenseman. One of these eligible 2010 draftees may be ready to make the jump into the NHL, and it may not be long before de Haan and Hamonic start wearing Islander jerseys on a regular basis. Martinek, Gervais, Hillen, MacDonald and Streit are still under contract. Brendan Witt is still under contract as well, but having spent the majority of the season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after being passed on by 29 other teams when placed on waivers, it’s expected that he will either be bought out or traded somehow. So there you have it, 5 defenseman under contract, two knocking on the door, and possibly a third to add to the mix.

Head Coach Scott Gordon stated that he wanted to see size added to his team, up front and on defense, after they lost their final home game in the shootout to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Snow answered half of that request with Trevor Gillies, who will be returning next year after proving that the Isles play a lot better with him in the line-up. But the back-end still needs some more muscle. Andy Sutton never ruled out a possibility of returning to the Islanders, and I’m sure Snow plans on giving him a call. But the Isles certainly could use some offense on the blue-line too. Someone like Pavel Kubina, who clocks in at 6’4 and 244 pounds would certainly be a nice addition. But that will all remain to be seen until July 1st and after.

So will Snow make some moves in order to free up some space? Or will he hold tight with the roster he has and let the pieces fall into place? Any Islander fan knows that Martinek’s name is written in pencil. He has never played a full season as he is always getting hurt in one way or another. Last year he only played 51 games; this year just 16. Keeping that in mind, the Isles may sign a UFA and keep everyone else around. de Haan may only get his first taste of NHL action once one of the top-6 have to spend some time in the press-box.

Bruno Gervais (bbreen37/Flickr)

Bruno Gervais is a defenseman that has got to prove a lot this year. He still has yet to find his niche on the Islanders. He’s going to be entering the final year of his contract and will be an impending RFA. In his five years with the team he has played 278 games and amassed only 9 goals and 53 assists for 62 points. He is also a dismal -46. He was a -15 this past year and the year before. His numbers have yet to improve and in ways have gotten worse as time has gone on. With de Haan and Hamonic on the brink of becoming NHL regulars, Gervais will have to seriously prove his worth if he wants Garth Snow to keep him around after next year.

With five defenseman set for the starting line-up and at least two more waiting for their opportunity, what do you think the Isles should do at the draft and during free agency?

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