Future starting to materialize for Tavares, Islanders
It's been a year, believe it or not. A full year since Garth Snow ended a few months of mild suspense and made John Tavares the first overall pick and the Islanders' future face of the franchise.
To see Tavares sitting in a conference room at Nassau Coliseum, smiling easily and looking as relaxed as he's looked at any point since that eventful night in Montreal, is to see that future starting to materialize.
Tavares is maturing quickly. It may have taken a sometimes rocky rookie season, but he is growing into his role as the Islanders' star.
"That's the great thing about coming into this league at a young age - you get some time to figure it out," Tavares said. "It's a benefit for me."
Tavares carries two big things into his second season. One is the experience of being tutored, in a sense, by Doug Weight. The Islanders' captain took in Tavares, letting the rookie live in Weight's guest house. He pulled Tavares aside for some insight into how he should pace himself.
"During the week after the season and before the World Championships, we talked a lot," Tavares said. "We're obviously at different parts of our careers, but I asked him how he did some things. I've leaned on him for a lot."
And that may best explain why Weight, who will turn 40 midway through next season and managed only a goal and 17 points through 36 games of an injury-plagued season, will return to the Islanders.
"I was pumped hearing he's coming back, just from what he's meant to me," Tavares said. "It'll be great to have him here not just for my development but also for the other guys and his overall impact on the team. When he needs to say something, set an example, cheer us up, he's always there at the right time."
The other big factor working for Tavares is a strange one: The slump he experienced from mid-December up to the Olympic break in February, when he had only two goals and seven points in 30 games after a very strong start to his NHL career (15 goals, 14 assists in his first 32 games).
"We had a long talk before he left for the Olympic break about just trying to put some enjoyment back in his game, about him relaxing," coach Scott Gordon said. "I don't think I could have asked for a better response than he gave after he came back."
Tavares had seven goals and 13 assists in the final 20 games of the season, including a five-point night in Vancouver on March 16 that was perhaps the most dominant game of his rookie season.
"I think it was a good mental test for me, to challenge myself to stay positive and keep working hard and know I've been able to produce all my life," he said of the slump. "In the long run, it'll do me wonders on how to handle things like that, learning what's going to make me successful and be consistent on a nightly basis."
As for stepping into a bigger leadership role, Tavares, who turns 20 on Sept. 20, doesn't want to rush things. Which is something a future leader might say.
"Most people know I don't like to say too much, that I'm a pretty serious guy," he said. "It's been good to have guys like Dougie and some of our other veterans around to do that. You don't want to look too far ahead."