Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Few Words With Calvin de Haan

Earlier in the week I, along with fellow Blogger Ken Dick, had the opportunity to talk with Isles 19-year old prospect defencemen Calvin de Haan.  Calvin, a first round pick in 2009 (12th overall) is attending his second Isles rookie camp.  First, before I get into the details of my interview, let me start by saying that Calvin was very comfortable in front of the microphone (OK, it was a MP3 recorder) and he was a complete natural talking to the media.  He was personable, considerate, didn't give short, clipped, one-word answers, and was smiling during the whole interview. Then again, who wouldn't smile after coming off the ice playing defense for an NHL club at 19 years of age.

How is his shoulder?
Calvin put to rest any concerns over his health by remarking that his shoulder "was 100%, he felt great, and he was ready to play hockey."  His season in the juniors was cut short last year when he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.  Calvin didn't look like he was having any problems physically during practice.  This is good news for the Islanders.

What are his chances to play on LI this season?
I asked Calvin about his chances to play with the big club this season seeing how the Isles already have 8 defencemen under contract.  He said having depth is a good thing and that it presents a challenge to him - that he "will just have to work that much harder" to make them consider him over one of the veterans.  "Besides," he told me, "the worst case scenario is I goes back to juniors for another season and get lots of ice time to get ready if the call comes."  He seemed very comfortable with the reality of the Isles logjam at defense.  He was realistic about his chances, yet remained positive that another year at juniors could be good for him and that he would focus on improving his game.  Speaking of improving his game, my colleague Ken Dick asked Calvin:

What areas are you focusing on improving?
Calvin said he was working on his size & strength, noting that these are 2 of the major differences between juniors, the AHL, and the NHL.  He joked, "besides, we're just 18 and 19 year old kids trying to skate with grown men."  He also obviously has a good sense of humor.  I commented on the Isles lack of size in my earlier blog about rookie camp (something noted subsequently by other bloggers in their post-game analysis of the Isles prospects game against the Bruins) and Calvin acknowledged the size issue.  But he did remark that size isn't everything (ladies - you're used to guys saying that about other things) and that things like center of gravity, quickness, speed, balance, and how you use your body can all compensate for size to some degree.

Do you think your puck-handling skills give you an edge over other prospect?
We all know that over the last 5-10 years the Isles have struggled putting the puck in the net from the blue line (Streit is the exception), so I asked Calvin if he thought that the scouting book on him as being a puck moving and offensive defencemen gives him an edge should the Isles need to fill a slot on the blue line.  He said possibly, it all depends on what the team needed at the time - he also said guys like Hamonic and Katic also can move the puck.  He just wants a shot and that he "plans to do his best to be ready when the time comes."

It looked like de Haan and Hamonic were the top defensive pair in the practice?
I asked Calvin if Coach Gordon had given any indication that there was a "pecking order" or "leaders" on the rookie team.  He said the Coach hadn't come right out and said anything, but that he felt like the guys who have been here before possess a different comfort level than some of the newcomers.  He thought the coach might pick captains for the Boston games but that nothing had been said so far.  He said he liked being paired with Hamonic and thought they both played well in the practice.

During the entire interview you could sense a level of maturity and poise in Calvin that you don't find in most 19 year old athletes, or 19 year olds in general.  As I said he was affable, at ease, comfortable with his answers, and very accommodating.  I think with the current contract situation on the defense (all 8 guys having one-way contracts) that Calvin is likely to start the year in the juniors, and that's OK with Calvin.  It will give him the chance to make up some of the time he lost last year as a result of his shoulder injury.  But when the call comes, I have no doubt that he will be mentally ready and that he has a bright future in the NHL.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

That's Why They Call Them Rookies...

I spent this morning at Iceworks in Syosset watching the Isles rookies practice.  You could tell the difference right away between the guys who have been there before and the new guys.  Return players like Hamonic, Katic, de Haan, DiBenedetto, Rakhshani, and a few others seemed to have less difficulty with the drills while newcomers Niederreiter, Kabanov, Nelson, and Dehart all showed occasional signs of confusion or were out of position.   Coach Gordon's whistle got as much of a workout as the players.  This wasn't a run-of-the-mill practice with skating & passing drills and the usual stuff you see in camp.  They spent the bulk of their time on the ice running 5 on 5 drills in preparation for the 2 scrimmages against the Bruin rookies later this week.  Here are some observations from the practice:
There were only 6 defensemen on the ice.  The defensive pairings were: de Haan and Hamonic (looked like the number one pairing); followed by Klementyev and Katic; and then Syvret and Dehart.  All looked steady but de Haan, Hamonic and Katic looked a step or 2 ahead of the other 3. Their having been here before is largely the reason.

Kabanov seemed lost at times and several drills were stopped because of him being out of position.  Coach Gordon would give him a pep talk (rather loudly) and then the drill would resume.  His being lost might have something to do with his showing up late for his physical yesterday and as punishment for his lateness I heard Gordon wouldn't let him take the ice.  So while today was day 2 for everyone else, the big Russian was only on day 1.  When practice ended, all the players except Kabanov went to the dressing room.  Kabanov was left behind to be tortured by Coach Scott Allen who made him do skating drills.  I had flashbacks to Herb Brooks in the movie Miracle --- "Blow the whistle Craig."  He eventually came off the ice sucking wind and dry heaving a little -- I am pretty sure he'll be on time the rest of camp.

First round pick Nino Niederreiter looked good (meaning, he didn't embarrass himself) and worked well with line mates Rhett Rakhshani and Robin Figren.  Goalie Mikko Koskinen looked like Lerch in net (although he did move a lot quicker).  He is enormous.  He doesn't look as smooth as other goalies - which I think is a function of his size (he stands at 6'-5").  They looked a little rusty, made plenty of mistakes, seemed confused at times, and they were all exhausted by the end of the 2+ hour practice.  But then again, its understandable -- they are rookies.  Putting it in perspective, all-in-all, they looked fine.

One last observation -- these guys all looked pretty small to me (except Koskinen).  Now I am 6'-3", so lots of people look small to me; however, some of these guys will be playing in the NHL this year and they looked like kids.   Calvin de Haan said it best when I interviewed him: "Most of us are 18-19 years old out here trying to skate with grown men."  He is right, most of these guys are not even 20 years old, haven't finished growing, and are just kids.  Speaking of Calvin de Haan, I had the privilege of speaking with him briefly after the practice.  My next blog will contain my interview with this very likable young man.

Anyway, as I sat there contemplating the team's youth and lack of size, there was this sudden but brief period of almost total darkness.  I thought perhaps there was a power surge, or they were dimming the lights to send a message to Coach Gordon that practice was over.  Then I looked up and noticed it was Trevor Gillies standing in front of me.  Holey Moley is he huge.  The Isles website says he is 6'-3" and 215.  I think that's a mistake.  He looks like he is 6'-5" or 6'-6" and pushing 225.  Or maybe some of that is just the mustache.

We'll have a better idea of where the rookies stand after their 2-game scrimmage against Tyler Seguin and the Bruins rookies on Wednesday and Thursday nights.  Finally, even though it was rookie camp there some very familiar faces walking around Iceworks.  I saw: Hunter, Schremp, Moulson, Okposo, D.P., Bailey, Hilbert, Martinek, Gillies, Gervais, Jurcina, Parenteau, and a few others.  

Seeing these guys in the orange & blue made me think of one thing --- the season is just around the corner.
Next up: My interview with Isles prospect Calvin de Haan.

Devils Fined & Lose Picks

Gary Bettman has settled on a punishment for the Devils attempt to circumvent the CBA rules with regard to their original efforts to sign Kovalchuk.  According to ESPN, the Devils were fined $3 million (does not count toward the salary cap) along with losing a 3rd round pick next year and a 1st round pick in one of the next four years (Devil's choice of which year).

While this may seem a little harsh on first blush - it does send a big message to the rest of the GM's and teams that the league will not stand by while teams make creative attempts to avoid the cap.  Let's face it - the original contract was sketchy (paying him $550,000 in the last 6 years until he was 44 yrs old).  This is especially tough considering GM Lou Lamoriello was part of the team negotiating the new CBA.  Some reporters feel the Devils got a break here and that it could have been worse --- they could have counted the fine toward the cap, took away more picks, increased the fine, etc.

One last note -- DP's contract always gets lumped into the conversation about these long-term contracts.  It's important to remember that DP is getting significantly less money than the others mentioned (Kovalchuk, Luongo, Hossa, and Ovechkin).  I think the league reached a fair penalty here.  Lou can squawk all he wants about not doing anything wrong here.... but as they say, sometimes the mere appearance that something is up is as bad as if something was actually up.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Park Moves to Europe

Katie Strang of Newsday reports that Richard Park, age 34, has left the Isles and signed a 3-yr deal to play for Swiss team Geneva-Servette. Apparently the Isles had only offered Park a two-way deal.  The Isles will miss his penalty-killing and faceoff prowess.  He averaged between 12 and 13 minutes of ice time last season and won a little more than 50% of his face-offs. He has always been one of their best on the PK.

Park only made $800,000 last season - so it surely wasn't a decision based on economics.  As mentioned in my previous post, the Isles have a lot of guys for only a few open slots.  Maybe this gives one of the younger guys a chance to show what he can do.

Good luck Park, we'll miss seeing number 10 out there when we are down a man.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just Around the Corner

The dog days of summer are behind us.  Earlier today the cool ocean breezes were bumping the early autumn leaves off the trees.  The kids are all back at school.

These are all signs of one thing... the 2010-2011 NHL season is just around the corner!  

A new NHL season means the players are getting prepared to endure their annual right of passage... Training Camp.  In only a few days we will get our first look at the 2010-2011 Islanders. Like most other teams, the Isles will open camp with some familiar faces (Okposo, Bailey, Tavares, Streit); some new faces (Wisniewski, Eaton, Jurcina, Konopka and Parenteau); some old faces (i.e., Weight & Sim); and lots of young faces.  Many of these "faces" will be trying to prove they belong on the top 2 lines or as one of the top 4 D-men; while many others will be fighting just to make the roster.

There will be lots of excitement as camp opens.  We'll get our first look at 2010 draft picks Nino Niederreiter, Brock Nelson, and Kirill Kabanov, along with returning prospects Calvin de Haan, Casey Cizikas, Travis Hamonic, Dustin Kohn, Dylan Reese, and others.  All of the above will not only be fighting to make an impression on Scott Gordon and the staff -- but to hopefully make the big club.

But do they even have a shot?  According the Isles website, they already have 14 forwards, 8 defensemen, and 2 goalies on the roster.  That's 24 players... and NHL rosters are limited to 23.  So, somethings gotta give.  It's obvious that some guys are guaranteed a spot -- Bailey, Hunter, Moulson, Okposo, Tavares, Weight, Streit, Martinek, Hillen, Wisniewski, Eaton, Roloson and DP (that's 13).  A few of the guys listed on the roster are likely to have only a little to worry about -- Neilsen, Schremp, Comeau, Jurcina, and MacDonald (that's another 5).  I think it's fairly obvious that the remaining guys are going to be fighting for their very lives (Sim, Gilles, Konopka,  Martin, Parenteau, and Gervais).  So... in reality, there is probably only 6 slots that are clearly open for competition.

When camp opens we'll have a clearer picture of where guys stand.  But for now... it looks like there are enough unconfirmed roster spots to make pre-season interesting.

Next Up:  Blog Box Update.