John Tavares: A Perennial All-Star in the Making
Since being drafted by the Islanders first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, the Islanders and the NHL have had high hopes for the young John Tavares. Tavares, born on September 20th, 1990 in Mississauga, Ontario, has been on the hockey world's radar for many years prior to the 2009 draft. For the 2005-06 season the OHL waived their 16 year old minimum in order to allow the Oshawa Generals to draft Tavares at only 15 years of age. The hype for Tavares started in 2004-05 when he played 72 games for the Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL and accumulated 158 points, and then was called up to the Milton Icehawks of the OPJHL where he managed 28 points in just 20 games.
In 2005-06 Tavares was drafted into the OHL by the Oshawa Generals, where he would spend the next four and a half seasons. During that time with the Generals, Tavares kept the hype behind his name alive accumulating 383 points before adding 50 more with the London Knights, also of the OHL, in 24 games. Prior to his NHL debut Tavares also represented Team Canada twice in the World Junior Championship, in 13 WJC games Tavares combined for 20 points.
His impressive point totals and almost unfathomable skill level made it impossible to doubt that the struggling New York Islanders would draft Tavares with the first overall pick in 2009. Of course the pick comes with the pressure of living up to the expectations of your team, the league and hockey fans in general; pressure that through his first three season have not seemed to bother Tavares.
Tavares did not take long to impress the NHL community tallying his first goal, assist and multi-point game in his NHL debut, a 4-3 shootout loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. JT capped off his rookie season again against the Penguins, this time scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 6-5 overtime loss. As a rookie he ended the season with a team high 54 points, combining 24 goals with 30 assists.
Heading into the 2010-11 season Islanders and hockey fans alike were anxious to see how Tavares would follow up such an outstanding rookie campaign. There was some cause for concern when late in the first period of the 2010-11 opener JT was elbowed in the head - he would leave the game and later be diagnosed with a minor concussion. After missing three games Tavares returned to face the Colorado Avalanche and would tally his first goal of the season, easing the minds of Islander Nation. Tavares went on to once again lead the team in points, this time with 67, 29 goals and 38 assists. (Photo Credit: New York Hockey Blog)
This past season was Tavares' best. Not only did he record career highs in goals, assists and points but he also showed his strongest all-around play as well as his ability to come through in clutch situations. Tavares combined for 81 points on 31 goals and 50 assists. His 81 points were good for 8th overall in the NHL and his assists were good for 10th. His impressive campaign in the 2011-12 season earned Tavares his first NHL All-Star bid, an honor I think he deserved in both of his first two seasons as well. The biggest improvement in his game however was his all-around play. In his first two seasons Tavares' plus/minus ratings were -15 and -16 respectively while in his third season he dropped his rating to -6. Increasing his defensive play was the main reason that the Islanders had any hope of making the playoffs in the second half of the season.
Tavares' overall game has improved in each of his first three seasons in every aspect. With 2011-12 being his best season so far their are a few reasons that I believe he was pushed over the hump from a great player to an elite player. Tavares has always been a threat to score as well as set his line mates up but I believe that this past season was the first time where he was a legitimate threat to score every time he touched the puck. The two biggest improvements that I noticed in his game were in his speed and strength coming into this season. Many times throughout the season JT held on to the puck and made strong, smart hockey plays that in his first two seasons the defender would have easily pushed him off the puck. The grit and tenacity of an elite hockey player was more apparent in Tavares this season as he stayed with the play more and turned broken plays into scoring opportunities and goals. Also a tremendous increase in speed allowed JT to beat opposing players to open areas and the puck to create new space for himself throughout the season. His newfound speed also helped out defensively allowing him to get back faster in transition and break up many of the opponents scoring chances.
This season the Islanders as a whole showed signs of improvement. With Tavares constantly getting better and improvements in other aspects of the team I am looking forward to a legitimate playoff run next season for the New York Islanders, as well as second NHL All-Star bid for Islanders superstar John Tavares.