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Looking to pull a Hamonic

Islanders prospects Calvin de Haan, Aaron Ness and Matt Donovan are looking to take the next step in their careers

Friday, 06.17.2011 / 10:44 AM ET / News
By Dyan LeBourdais
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Looking to pull a Hamonic
As a young defenseman looking to break into the National Hockey League, Travis Hamonic had everything going for him when he arrived at Islanders training camp last summer. He had grown into his 6’2” frame, filling out at 208 pounds and he knew how to use that size to his advantage, adding a significant physical presence to his game. More than that, he was confident in his abilities on the blueline. All he had to do was prove it at the top level in the world.

Prior to the start of camp, Islanders management stocked the defensive core with new, veteran acquisitions, penciling Hamonic into a roster spot with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League. Rather than feeling defeated, the Winnipeg, Manitoba native took his opportunity by storm, posting the highest point totals amongst Sound Tigers defenseman with 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists).

Just 19 games into the season, the Islanders once strong D-core was depleted by injury, so Hamonic received his first-ever NHL call-up. Determined not to let the opportunity escape him, the Islanders 2008 second-round (53rd overall) draft selection worked hard to stay with the big club and made a remarkable impact on the Islanders blueline.

Not once sent down to ‘The A’ after his initial call-up, Hamonic fulfilled his dream of becoming a full-time NHL defenseman, finishing second among team defensemen in scoring and second in time on ice per game.

This off-season, there are three more Islanders prospects looking to follow in Hamonic’s footsteps.

Two selected in the same 2008 draft class as Hamonic, these defensemen have been molding their craft for the past three seasons;  Aaron Ness was selected by the Islanders in the second round (40th overall) and Matt Donovan in the fourth round (96th overall). The youngest of the three, Calvin de Haan, was selected by the Islanders a year later at 12th overall.
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Calvin de Haan plays the puck against the New Jersey Devils during the preseason game on October 1, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. (Andy Marlin/Getty Images)
There has been a buzz about de Haan ever since the Islanders drafted him in 2008. A highly touted prospect, the Carp, Ontario native came close to cracking the Islanders lineup out of camp last year, but with the Islanders aforementioned stocked blueline, he ended up being returned to his junior club, the Oshawa Generals.

Now, he’s targeting the big club this season. In April, de Haan completed his third season with Oshawa in the Ontario Hockey League. He’s said scoring wasn’t on the top of his list, but he still managed to finish tied for second on the team in regular-season assists, and was first on the team in postseason assists and tied for second on the team in postseason points.

Mostly, de Haan’s been working to improve his size. He’s been in the gym, gaining the necessary muscle mass to compete with the most physical players. On top of that, he’s become a dominant force in the Ontario Hockey League, working hard to improve his defensive game. He elevated his plus-minus rating to plus-43 and also captained his junior club, leading the Generals to the OHL playoffs for the first time in three years.

For more on de Haan, click here.
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Ness and Donovan didn’t go the junior hockey route. Instead, they made their mark as collegiate athletes.

Ness, formerly a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, and Donovan, formerly a University of Denver Pioneer, chose to forgo the remainder of their collegiate careers, opting to turn pro and ultimately sign entry-level contracts with the Islanders.

Prior to the deal, Ness completed his junior season with 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) in 35 games for the Golden Gophers. About a week later, the defenseman, who called his AHL experience an “eye-opener,” got his first taste of professional hockey, dressing for the Sound Tigers remaining 13 regular season games. He scored a goal, three assists and gained valuable experience for a rookie-to-be.

Aaron Ness #3 of Team USA skates against Team Russia on August 15, 2009 in Lake Placid. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
“There’s not as much of the quick dump and chase,” Ness said. “Everyone isn’t pounding each other. It’s more of a skilled, finesse game and it’s a lot more fun that way.”

From now until training camp, Ness plans to work on his strength training, but he also has an idea of how he’d like to see his game progress.

“I think for me, just get back to my game more,” Ness said. “In Bridgeport, I started becoming more of an offensive threat like I used to be and was getting back into that game, playing sound defense, making the first pass out of the zone and playing steady. I want to get back there.”

Donovan, who’s filled out in the past two seasons, joined Ness on the Sound Tigers blueline for the final six games of the season after completing his sophomore season at Denver. He posted a goal and four assists in Bridgeport.

“It was awesome having Nesser (Aaron Ness) there,” said Donovan. “I knew him before. And Rhett Rakhshani, I played at Denver with him. I knew some of the other guys from camps, too. All of those guys made me feel welcome. It was a good team to be around. It was a fun experience.”

Those six games also served as a valuable learning experience.

“The pace of the game is definitely a little bit faster, a little bit quicker decision-making and all the guys are big and strong,” Donovan said. “But overall, I learned that if I play the same game that I’m capable of, I’ll succeed.”

Matt Donovan skates during the 2010 IIHF WJC Tournament Gold Medal game against Team Canada on January 5, 2010 in Saskatoon, SASK. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Before signing his Amateur Tryout Contract, Donovan improved his point totals from his first college season to his second by 12 points and completed his sophomore campaign at Denver with 32 points (9 goals, 23 assists) in 42 games.

“I’ve always been one to try and get points and be an offensive-defenseman, but my freshman year, I was a little inconsistent offensively and I tried to work on that my sophomore year,” Donovan said. “I got a lot better at that. I tried to focus on my defensive game as well and I think that also improved.”

Donovan’s father, the manager of a few ice rinks back home in Oklahoma, gave his son every opportunity to accomplish his goal of playing pro. In 2008, the 21-year-old became the first player selected in the Entry Draft from ‘The Sooner State.’

“There’s not much hockey down there (in Oklahoma), but I was always at the rink and always with my dad at the rink, always on the ice whenever I could,” Donovan said.
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With three very different and skilled defensemen who have grown tremendously in size and ability since being selected in the 2008 draft, it’s quite possible they’ll make their NHL debut next season.

The only question is: In their first year, will any of them share Hamonic’s same level of immediate success in the NHL that made it impossible to send him back to Bridgeport?




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