Five years. Five long years …
Well, not exactly. A few months short of a 60-month car loan would be more accurate.
That’s how long it took for fans of the New York Islanders to finally see the big bang from the 2009 NHL Entry Draft buck. It was June 26 of that year that the Islanders made the no-brainer move to take John Tavares first overall at the Bell Centre in Montreal. And moments later, they made the somewhat controversial move to take defenseman Cal de Haan at No. 12 overall.
Since that day, Islanders management, teammates and fans have been anxious to see the two players who were pegged to be the leaders of the new era – one that would include winning ways, Stanley Cup contention and a general return to respect within the sports world.
The smooth-skating defenseman setting up the power play. Creative rushes up the ice. On-ice vision that would be among the best in the game.
That’s what was expected.
And nearly five years later, those visions became reality.
How could any Islander fan NOT watch de Haan’s clutch pass across the crease to a rushing Tavares for the game-winning goal against Dallas on Sunday night and not think of that draft? Not have a tear in his or her eye? Maybe even a sigh of relief and renewed hope that the dream might still be on course? (See the goal here: http://nyisl.es/svOhJ)
The road for this redemption has been long. And complicated. The journey started with a series of complicated trades made by Isles GM Garth Snow to move up in the draft in the effort to land de Haan. Snow and owner Charles Wang evidently saw something in de Haan, who had recorded 55 points in 68 games that year during his first year in the Ontario Hockey League.
No doubt that 2009 was a big year for the lefty – he made the OHL All-Star Classic, participated in the CHL Top Prospects Game and was selected to Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.
All of his success, however, didn’t impress the people behind Hockey’s Future – the media company with experts around North America who evaluate young players and even predict how they’ll fare in the pros.
In de Haan’s case, he rated a 7.0 out of 10 on their Prospect Talent Score. And his Probability of Success score was a D. According to their online explanation of those scores, de Haan was expected to be an average defenseman, “… not quite good enough to play on the top line or pairing on a regular basis, but still possessing enough talent to contribute offensively, defend with some authority …”
Despite the amount of time that has passed, the experts at Hockey’s Future have not been afforded the opportunity to be proven wrong. Multiple injuries continually sidelined de Haan over the years. His first real opportunity to finally join Tavares as a regular teammate did not come until this season.
And while he had played solidly in his first 20 games this campaign, it was the 21st – Sunday night in Dallas – that now stands out as a landmark moment.
That was no ordinary game-winning pass. That was 2009 making its presence known.