Gripping a bundle of sticks and hoisting an equipment bag over his shoulder, John Tavares was the last player to leave Nassau Coliseum yesterday. As he climbed the stairs near the team exit following the team’s break-up day, he both literally and figuratively closed the door on his heralded rookie season.

And less than 24 hours after the Islanders' season finale—a 6-5 overtime loss to Pittsburgh—Tavares already had a laundry list of items to work on heading into a pivotal off-season.

Quickness. Power. Strength. Conditioning. All are elements of his game he wants to improve on over the summer to propel him into a successful sophomore campaign.

“Knowing what I know now, preparing for next year will be a lot different,” the 19-year-old, No. 1 pick said. “It’s going to benefit me big time.”

Although, Tavares’ rookie year wasn’t too shabby. Facing lofty expectations, a healthy dose of scrutiny and the toughest critic of all—himself—Tavares finished with 54 points (24 goals and 30 assists), only one point behind rookie scoring leader Matt Duchene (24 goals, 31 assists).

A success?

“I think so,” Tavares said.“I came in as a 19-year-old, scored 24 goals and contributed on a nightly basis. And I played in all 82 games. I think that’s a pretty successful year.”

But with Tavares, there is always the searing desire to do better.

“As I mature and experience more, get to know the league better and the players in it, I should know more about how to be successful,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to have more success personally and contribute to the team more.”

Islanders captain Doug Weight--Tavares’ mentor, teammate and landlord--said he’s already seen the youngster make huge strides. With an off- season to train like a professional, Tavares should only get better.

“I’ve never seen a player learn more throughout the course of one season than John. [This off-season] could change his career and he’s ready to attack that. You’re going to see a stronger, more consistent player.”

After collaborating with team training staff, Tavares will return to the Athlete Training Center in Toronto, Ontario (where he has trained in the past with trainer Richard Clark) this summer with a plan devised to address the weaknesses in his game.

“To be able to have the strength--being a step closer to being in a man’s body versus a 19-year-old body is going to be significant. If you’re stronger ,you’re going to be more effective,” coach Scott Gordon said after his exit interview with Tavares yesterday.
“John wants to get better and he’s willing to put in the time and do the work.” 

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