ON THE HORIZON – Calvin De Haan, D, Bridgeport (AHL)

After selecting John Tavares with the first pick of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Islanders organization envisioned that pick to be the cornerstone for a franchise seeking its first playoff series victory in nearly two decades.

And Tavares hasn’t disappointed!

However, it was the selection made just minutes later by Snow and his scouting staff that continues to draw criticism – deservedly so or not – from die hard Islander fans, questioning whether the price that was paid was indeed a prudent one or one that will be a head-scratcher to mull over for years to come.

The Islanders traded five of their own draft picks – first rounder-26, second rounder-37, third rounders-62 and 82 and fourth rounder-92 – to move up twice in the first round (26-to-16-to-12) to draft then 18-year-old defenseman Calvin De Haan.

At six-feet, 170 pounds, De Haan, who was tabbed as the 22nd best prospect by The Hockey News and 36th by the International Scouting Service prior to the draft, was himself surprised by the selection. Yet, he was elated.

“I didn’t have a clue that the Islanders were going to move up and select me,” said De Haan, whose stock skyrocketed that spring following a stellar campaign at Oshawa (OHL) after his former junior teammates Tavares and current New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto were traded to London (OHL), leaving the cerebral defenseman to step up to the forefront and assume the lead role on the Generals’ blue-line. “But when reality set in, I was very excited. It was a surreal moment, and definitely one of the best moments in my life.”

De Haan finished second among Ontario Hockey League rookie blue-liners with 63 points – eight goals and 55 assists – during the 2008-09 campaign for the Generals. At the tail end of that season, he was selected to play for the Canadian under-18 World Junior Championship squad in April 2009 in Fargo, North Dakota.

Despite assisting on six goals in six tournament games, De Haan’s Canadian team finished a disappointing fourth. The United States would defeat the Russians, 5-0 to win the gold.

After being selected by the Islanders later in the summer, De Haan returned to Oshawa for a second season, and was subsequently chosen to the 2010 Canadian World Junior Championship team in November. His tournament only lasted four games, as he suffered a blow to the head in a semifinal victory against Switzerland. He assisted on one goal, but Canada would drop the gold medal to the United States in overtime, 6-5 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

De Haan’s future teammate Matt Donovan was a defenseman for the victors, as Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson would tally the game-winner for the Americans.

Despite the loss, the experience was one that De Haan would soon not forget.

“Playing in the World Junior Championships was incredible,” said De Haan. “Anytime you put on that jersey, only a select few are fortunate enough to wear it.”

Unfortunately, De Haan’s string of bad luck would continue nearly a month later playing for the Generals, as he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury against Saginaw. The injury sidelined him for six months, preventing a late season call-up by the Islanders.

De Haan would only play 34 games in Oshawa that 2009-10 season, collecting 24 points – five goals and 19 assists.

After signing his three-year entry deal in May 2010, De Haan’s rehabilitation from the shoulder injury would end by mid-summer, as he was invited to the Islanders training camp. He impressed the Islander brass, but was cut prior to opening night against Dallas and was immediately returned to Oshawa for a third and final season.

De Haan finished the 2010-11 campaign in Oshawa by scoring 48 points – six goals and 42 assists. He was also named an alternate captain for the Canadians in the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo, alongside Nashville Predator prospect Ryan Ellis, Philadelphia Flyer prospect Brayden Schenn and Ottawa Senator prospect Jared Cowen.

For a second consecutive tournament, De Haan would not be around for the conclusion, as he suffered a lower body injury in preliminary round play against the Czech Republic.

Canada, who also had Islander prospect Casey Cizikas on its squad, would squander a 3-0 lead in the gold medal finale, surrendering five third-period goals to the Russians, in a 5-3 setback.

The injury left many questioning De Haan’s durability, wondering if his lack of physicality would take its toll on one of the team’s premiere prospects.

De Haan wasn’t concerned.

“Some guys were more physically developed than me, when I was drafted,” said De Haan. “I continue to get stronger each day. The goal is to play in the NHL.”

For a second straight summer, De Haan was invited to Islanders training camp. He played alongside fellow Canadian teammate Travis Hamonic and Islanders captain Mark Streit, and competed as if he belonged.

Physically, he bulked up to 190 pounds, and despite being shuttled down to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport, De Haan remains on target to be a mainstay on the Islanders blue line in the coming years, according to Sound Tiger head coach Brent Thompson.

“At six-feet-one, 190 pounds, Calvin has good size,” said Thompson, who was named the Sound Tigers’ head coach this past summer after three successful seasons leading the Alaska Aces in the East Coast Hockey League, winning a Kelly Cup Championship in 2011. “He could definitely put on some weight, but there is no doubt that he will be a top end offensive defenseman in the NHL.

“He has a great head for the game.”

In his first season in the American Hockey League, De Haan has scored two goals, while assisting on four others. He also has logged an average 20-plus minutes per game in his first 17 contests.

De Haan, who once again injured his shoulder on November 12 at Springfield and missed nearly two weeks of action, returned to action this past Friday night at home against Bridgeport’s cross-state rivals, The Connecticut Whale – The New York Rangers’ top AHL affiliate. He scored his second professional goal in the Sound Tigers’ 6-2 win.

“Calvin is making progress each day,” said Thompson, who played 121 National Hockey League games with the Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings. “For a defenseman, it usually takes a little longer to develop. The longer they can develop, the better a player they can be on the NHL level.”

De Haan has followed his coach’s patience to a tee.

“I have no time table on when I should be called up,” said De Haan, who will turn 21 this upcoming May. “If I get called up, it would be incredible. But if it is a day, a week, a year, whatever the organization thinks is appropriate, I will back them up.”

What De Haan supposedly lacks in muscle, he makes up for it in smarts and skating ability. That reason alone is why both De Haan and Thompson eye former New Jersey Devils defenseman and future hall of famer Scott Niedermayer as a prototypical comparison moving forward.

“How Scott played and how he kept his head in the game at all times is what I see in Calvin,” said Thompson. “They both move the puck extremely well.”

De Haan concurred.

“My strength is being a defenseman who makes the smart play,” said De Haan. “I am trying to be a two-way guy, who will be a quarterback on the power play in the NHL.

“Scott Niedermayer was that type of defenseman.”

Outside the rink, De Haan has enjoyed hanging out with his new Sound Tiger teammates, including top Islanders prospects Donovan, Cizikas and Aaron Ness. He also enjoys heading to the mall and going bowling.

However, Thompson believes De Haan greatest attribute to his team and a future stint on the Island is his character both on and off the ice.

“Calvin is a first rate citizen.” said Thompson. “He speaks extremely well. He is a great character guy.

“He is usually one of the first guys in the locker room and one of the first guys in the gym. He simply wants to be the best hockey player he can be.”

Will the Islander brass continue to remain patient with one of their crown jewels or will they make the same mistake as they did a few years back by rushing another slight in size Ontario Hockey League standout into the NHL?

Only time will tell.