We've covered three forwards so far in our top 15, and today we're dishing up on a defenseman. This 21-year-old six-foot-four blue liner has been much of an afterthought in the Red Wings system due to, well, you name it, I guess. Drafted in the sixth round, not having staggering offensive numbers, and playing for a lesser-known college (by the common fan's definition.) James de Haas was drafted in 2012 at 170th overall after being named an OJHL First Team All-Prospect with the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots.
de Haas accepted a full scholarship to Clarkson University in 2011, and was named to the NCAA (ECAC) All-Rookie Team in 2013-2014 after producing 13 points in 38 games.
I'll be completely honest with you all, I haven't seen this kid play nearly as much as I want. What matters most is that in the limited time I have seen him play (development & main camp), he has been a stand out defenseman.
Not only does de Haas have size, but he also has that unteachable trait we call hockey sense. If you watch him during drills, or even scrimmage/game, you can see that he simply knows where the puck is going. This is something any NHL team would love to have on their side.
Is he a top NHL prospect? No. He's what we call a "project." de Haas is on of those players who will spend four years in the NCAA fulfilling his degree, and becoming a better athlete. This way it betters himself, and betters the organization. He's shown to be a big-framed defender with two-way instinct, so that is why three of us at WIIM have voted him into the top 15 Red Wings prospects.
You may not hear a lot of talk about James de Haas, but that's more a result of him being out of sight, out of mind than a reflection of his abilities and potential. Because he's playing at Clarkson and NCAA rules make it impossible for college players to attend NHL training camps or events like the Prospect Tournament, it's easy to forget about him, or simply not see him play and form an opinion at all. At 6'4" 215 pounds, de Haas already has the body of an NHL'er in many ways. He's still filling out and increasing his strength to fully utilize his size, and while there's still room for some filling out (believe it or not), size is something that can't be taught and de Haas has it. He has excellent skating abilities, very impressive mobility and is proof that bigger doesn't mean slower or less agile. He's a fantastic puck handler and does a good job of moving the puck up ice, weather via a good first pass, or by skating the puck up himself. His size, skating abilities, puck handling skill, vision, and good hockey sense combine to form a potential #3/#4/#5 NHL defenseman. He's become the go-to defenseman at Clarkson as he enters his Junior year, playing in all situations (even strength and both special teams) as well as contributing offensively in a significant way. Last season he had 6 goals and 15 points to lead all defensemen in points and was 4th overall in team points.
At the NHL level I don't think he'll be a huge point producer, but I think he can contribute enough offensively while also providing stability and safety on his pairing; perhaps anchoring his partner and allowing them to take more offensive risks. There's more focus now on skilled defensemen in the NHL, size isn't enough to secure a roster spot and de Haas has the combination of size, skating ability, and the potential to contribute offensively whether via goals or creating offense by moving the puck up ice and setting up teammates.
It's likely de Haas will play out his last two years at Clarkson and use the time to develop his body, game, and mind. When the Wings drafted him he was a project player who we knew was going to take a slower development path, and with him taking the college hockey route, the Wings have longer to work with and evaluate him; they have until August of 2017 to sign him to a contract. de Haas has the potential to be a very good #4 or #5 defenseman at the NHL level, and with his combination of size and skill he could be coming into the NHL in 2-3 years and at a time when the Wings could use his particular set of skills.
I love watching de Haas play and think he could end up being a sleeper prospect who surprises a lot of people when he gets to the AHL/NHL.
James made significant progress this year with his overall game away from the puck and has started to emerge as a player that can consistently impact games offensively."
That's Clarkson head coach Casey Jones on Red Wings prospect defenseman James de Haas, and I completely agree with de Haas' coach. The rising junior has been the dream project prospect: someone drafted with the long-game view of a player that would develop over the course of years before making contributions at the NHL level. de Haas has made significant improvements to his game every year since being drafted, and he'll go into next season as an alternate captain for the Golden Knights.***
de Haas is coming off a season where he led Clarkson's blue line in scoring and finished fourth on the team overall in points. He played second pair minutes, sometimes middling as the top pair with frequent partner Kevin Tansey. de Haas plays in all situations for Clarkson, and for a couple seasons has been let down by .902 and .905 overall save percentage goaltending.
Probably de Haas' greatest physical skill is his skating ability, which allows him plenty of mobility even for his imposing frame. As his coach has said, he's made significant progress on his game away from the puck, but he could still stand to be stronger on the puck. He makes solid decisions with it, making good first passes and potentially developing into a future power play quarterback at the NCAA level.
For de Haas to take the next step, he'll absolutely need to play consistently against top flight competition at the NCAA level and prove that he can succeed against that level of competition. If he and Tansey stay paired together, they might see the opposition's best players on a nightly basis, but de Haas may also find himself moved to a truer top pairing with Clarkson captain Paul Geiger.
The most exciting thing about de Haas as a prospect is that he's truly established himself as an NHL hopeful after being a relative afterthought when he was drafted in the sixth round in 2012. de Haas still has a ways to go before he sniffs the NHL, but the fact he's already come so far in a few years shows he is capable of taking big steps in his development with a few seasons of work.
Kyle - #10
Michelle - #10
Joe - #9