Rounding Out The Isles Defense

The Islanders are just a day away from joining 29 other NHL clubs in the festivities of July 1st. To a lot of people, it is just another summer day to be enjoyed outside. For many others, it's a day meant for excitement or anguish which steals one's complete attention for TSN, Twitter and any other fast paced media outlet that will have updates on the opening of NHL Free Agency. (Photo Credit: Project-Cat/Flickr)

The Isles appear set to be parting ways with Mark Eaton, Steve Staios, Milan Jurcina and perhaps their most important free agent, PA Parenteau. The latter has served as an important member on the team's top line for the past two seasons and is coming off his biggest year, likely to command a long term contract and a significant pay raise on the open market.

The previously mentioned defenseman will not receive any grief for signing elsewhere. In fact, many Islanders fans will probably be overjoyed that they will have the opportunity to see aging veterans replaced by young, upcoming talent from within the organization.

Lubomir Visnovsky, despite some early controversy, will be reporting to camp for the Islanders and will round out a top-four tandem that includes Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald. That leaves GM Garth Snow with two open spots to fill on defense.

He could look to test free agency with names like Ryan Suter, Jason Garrison or Dennis Wideman, or look towards older veterans that can provide stability and strength in Bryan Allen, Scott Hannan or Filip Kuba. Someone from the older class could still possibly be added to strengthen the defense to leave room for one or two defenders from the Sound Tigers to join the team. Three players that have to have their eyes on the 5th and 6th spots are Calvin de Haan, Matt Donovan and Aaron Ness.All three saw some limited time with the Isles last year and showed a lot of potential.

Aaron Ness appeared in an Islanders jersey the most out of those three, dressing in 14 games. He did not register a point but had six shots on net and finished the year with an even rating. The 22-year old was drafted in the second round at 40th overall in the 2008 draft and only has one full season of professional hockey under his belt. In 69 games with the Sound Tigers last year, Ness put up five goals and 22 assists for 27 points and was a +8. Ness' speed and agility in his end provides him the ability to quickly recover the puck when lost and to make a strong first pass out of the defensive zone. However, he is only 5'10 and 170 pounds. He's going to have to beef up this summer if he wants to make a strong impression at training camp being that he's going to be up against some strong competition.

One defenseman that Islanders management has been carefully grooming for some time is Calvin de Haan. He only dressed for one game with the Islanders last year and did not look out of place. He didn't exactly stand out as an offensive threat; in fact, he was barely noticed. But this was because he wasn't caught making any rookie mistakes or bad plays. He was strong on the puck and was seen winning the one-on-one battles along the wall. The 12th overall pick in the 2009 draft is ready for his chance to make it with the Islanders after playing 56 games with the Sound Tigers last year. However, he only scored 16 points from the blue line, a much smaller statistic than what the coaching staff probably hoped for after being just a bit shy of a point per game when playing for the Oshawa Generals of the OHL. de Haan's career has already been hampered by injuries, including another shoulder injury that occurred last season. He assures everyone that he is healthy and ready to compete for one of those spots on defense. Let's hope he finds his offensive game and brings it to the table in training camp. (Chris D.Dixon/Flickr)

The player that might have himself ahead of the game going into training camp is Matt Donovan. He may have only been a fourth round pick of the 2008 draft, but Donovan might have been the most impressive looking hockey player out of these three candidates. He didn't put up any points while dressed for his three games with the Isles, but his play was absolutely fun to watch. In one shift against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Donovan hit the post and set up a few nice plays while creeping down low on the rush. He also was just as quick to return to his blue line as he was to get into the thick of things down low on offense. Our Sound Tigers writer, Mike Flannery has basically said his goodbyes to Donovan, acknowledging that it will be downright surprising if he isn't starting the 2013 season in an Islanders uniform. I would have to agree with him after seeing that he racked up 45 points from the blue line (10 goals, 35 assists) and was +11 in his first full professional season. (svictoria29/Flickr)

Ness and de Haan will likely give this kid a run for his money, but Donovan may have a bit of an edge as the summer continues to pass us by.

-Rob McGowan
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