EDMONTON - John Tavares remembers well the first time he pulled an Islanders jersey over his head: the day he was selected first overall in the 2009 NHL draft in June. Donning the Islanders' colors for the first time, however, was more than just a photo opportunity or publicity event for Tavares; it was symbolic of an end and also a new beginning.

The hype, the buildup and the speculation about Tavares and where he would land ended in Montreal, and with it came a chance to start anew.

"It was awesome. I was finally part of the National Hockey League," Tavares said after yesterday's morning skate. "It was nice to be selected and finally know where I was headed, where my career was going to begin."

Tavares' career began at Rexall Place here last night, as he played his first NHL exhibition game as a member of the Islanders. He had one shot on goal in 22:50 of ice time in a 3-2 loss to the Oilers.

"This is my first game in the National Hockey League and playing for the New York Islanders so it'll be a special evening," Tavares said before the game. "I've worked very hard and wanted this for a long time, so it'll be pretty cool."

Tavares is no stranger to intense media scrutiny and the enormous amount of pressure that engenders, but despite his ability to deal with it all, he admitted he was heading into the game with some nerves.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I think I'll be a little nervous at the beginning," Tavares said, "but once I get in the game it'll be like any other game."

Accompanying those nerves will be the expectations - from others and those he has placed on himself. "It's my first game so I don't want to put too much pressure on myself, but I obviously want to have a good game," Tavares said. "I want to have some positives to build on to get ready for October 3."

That date - when the Islanders begin the regular season by hosting the Stanley Cup champion Penguins at Nassau Coliseum - is not only a date important to Tavares but one he knows holds significance to all the Islanders fans anticipating his debut.

"Fans are dying to get the winning tradition back," Tavares said. "Hopefully me and the other guys can get that going."

Notes & quotes: Forward Frans Nielsen flew back to New York to have his right knee examined. Nielsen was injured in practice Tuesday . . . Doug Weight and Sean Bergenheim left last night's game with groin strains and are day-to-day . . . Defenseman Bruno Gervais scored an unassisted goal in the first period and defenseman Calvin de Haan scored in the third period.