SASKATOON, Saskatchewan - Battling through the flu, nerves, and high expectations, John Tavares took the first significant stride toward his rookie season in the NHL as he made his Islanders training camp debut Sunday.
"My first kind of feels like my first one in juniors, but now this is the highest level of hockey in the world," Tavares said. "For sure it's been a lot of fun. I definitely have been nervous the past couple of days, but I'm starting to overcome those things and take it all in."
Integral to the process of adapting to NHL play has been the support and instruction from Tavares' veteran teammates, many of whom he managed to impress Sunday with poise and maturity.
"He's a good kid," said Doug Weight, Tavares' training camp roommate. "I've gotten to know him pretty quickly and I'm very impressed. I'm excited about being on his team and what's to come for him in the future."
But Weight was impressed not only with the composure Tavares exhibited, but also his skill.
"Obviously, anyone picked that high has a tremendous amount of talent. He's shown that. He has a great set of hands and a mind for the game," Weight said. "There's a reason he's been highly touted for as long as he's been."
Trent Hunter, who skated on a line with Weight and Tavares Sunday, acknowledged the potential of the Islanders' heralded top prospect.
"He's a good player. He has good hands, a good shot, and good vision," Hunter said. "He's fun to watch out there."
Tavares said his teammates - particularly Weight - have helped make the transition from junior hockey to the NHL as seamless as possible.
"We want to make John comfortable, we want to make every guy comfortable," Weight said. "He's been through a lot and he needs to know we want him on this team. We want him to be a big part of this team. He'll take his share of junk over the next couple of weeks, but that's all part of it."
Weight, who has established a mentor-like relationship with Tavares, sees him as a crucial piece of the rebuilding movement on this young Islanders team. But though he recognizes the need to help foster his development, he also doesn't want Tavares to incur a disproportionate amount of pressure or responsibility for the team's success.
"John's going to be a big piece of that. By no means does he need to be the biggest piece. He's just got to fit in and let his talent show," Weight said. "He doesn't have to make the All-Star team his first day of practice."