Tavares Not the Main Concern

Three years ago, the Islanders faced the 2009 NHL Entry Draft with the #1 pick firmly in their hands. They had their pick of three players -- big defenseman Victor Hedman, small yet speedy center Matt Duchene, or dazzling goalscorer John Tavares. (Photo: Robert Kowal/flickr)

We all know how this story went. Snow announced Tavares, Nassau Coliseum erupted, hugs and drinks and celebration all around.

Three years later, Tavares has experienced his "coming out" as a legitimate talent in the NHL, so to speak. The weaknesses he showed in his rookie season -- his skating, for one -- have diminished rapidly, and he looks strong and confident on the ice. He also has improved in the points category, not missing a beat from season to season -- from 54, to 67, and now to 81. That improvement earned him his first All-Star Game and opened the rest of the league's eyes to what JT can do. 

Troll some message boards or social networks for fan reactions, however, and you'll see some muttering about his scoreless streaks (of which he had at least three), his overall scoring being low considering he was known as a goal scorer coming into the NHL. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Here's why that's bogus:

  • Tavares has led our scoring for all three years he's been in the league. Yeah, not a huge feat on a team that has issues with a consistent offense, but it still means something. JT isn't known for having a lot of top-tier teammates around him; rather, he's the one expected (by now) to make others better. Were he to have been drafted by, say, Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh, he might have excelled (then again, he might also have been buried on the Penguins). 

Take away JT's contributions, and you lose, on average, 13.3% of the Islanders' offense from his goalscoring alone over three seasons. You also lose a combined 118 assists, plus intangibles such as plays he may have started, but didn't assist on.

  • There are other things JT has improved on. The aforementioned skating, for one, has gotten much better. Compare this montage of highlights from JT's rookie year (in which he shows a good tendency to follow up plays and finish them off) to this reel from 2011-12 (he creates more plays and makes stronger rushes up the ice). (Warning: Loud and slightly cheesy music in the second video.)

In just three years, Tavares has become so much stronger on his skates, he's improved his shot, and he's displayed a growing vision on the ice that is just great to watch. His tandem with Matt Moulson on the top line has contributed many a pretty goal (or just a goal, period) and been the consistent presence in an inconsistent lineup. (Photo: Bridget Samuels/flickr)

  • Tavares is only 21 years old.

This is a no-brainer. Or at least, it should be. Yes, there are other guys -- Steven Stamkos, of course Sidney Crosby, maybe even Jonathan Toews -- who have experienced more success in the same age range. But compare the rosters they are on. More depth, more experience, more talent overall than what Tavares has here.

For having very little veteran mentorship outside of Doug Weight (and that alone has seemed to help him greatly), JT's development has been going smoothly. He may not have flashy numbers, but he has a more complete game than three years ago and tons of hockey sense, as well as a developing leadership that his teammates are responding to.

Stamkos is the guy a lot of fans like to throw up there with Tavares for comparison, and to be honest, there really isn't any. Look at Steve's stat totals and you can see his emphasis has become goal-scoring (not to say he isn't a good playmaker, but still). His rookie season wasn't exactly an offensive explosion either, proving that most players do need a period of transition time to get to their desired level. Granted, he has reached it a bit quicker than JT, and that might be attributed as much to his supporting cast as to his own development.

Surely Tavares would like to be on a level with Stamkos soon, and he has the work ethic that can make it so. He's already become a clutch player for the Isles (eight game-winners this season). He puts tremendous pressure on himself to perform, which has hindered him a little in the past, but as long as he keeps it simple and does his job, he should produce.

As for his scoreless streaks, of which he had three this past season, it's as much the secondary scoring's responsibility to pick up the slack as it is JT's responsibility to figure out how to break those slumps, or at least cut them down to a handful of games. What he lacks is a true veteran presence on the ice to help out, but maybe the Isles think Brad Boyes will be that presence for him. (Maybe.)

Basically, we as fans cannot put too much on John Tavares's shoulders just yet. He's in for the long haul and he's starting to prove himself as a legitimate force in the NHL. But just like any player, it takes some time for him to really reach his potential, as most Isles fans realize. For the handful of mutterers out there... just relax. They can't all be Crosby (or even Stamkos) right away.