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Tavares skates with Islander teammates

John Tavares of the New York Islanders skates

John Tavares of the New York Islanders skates during prospects camp. Credit: Getty Images

One day after John Tavares arrived on Long Island, he was approached at a department store by a few young Islanders fans who asked him to take a photograph with them.

Aside from that request Sunday, Tavares has been able to begin his journey into the NHL while maintaining a relatively low profile.

Tavares, whom the Islanders selected with the first overall pick in this year's draft, stepped onto the ice and skated with his veteran teammates for the first time Monday. Several teammates casually introduced themselves to Tavares on the ice during practice at Iceworks in Syosset and afterward in the locker room, but there were no cameras flashing or fans awaiting his arrival at the rink.

No hype, no distractions, just hockey.

That's a welcome change for Tavares, whose every move since adolescence has been detailed and scrutinized by the Canadian media, culminating with the frenzied coverage surrounding his selection in the draft in June.

"New Yorkers are very passionate about their sports, and it's such a big city that there will be attention, but it won't be like Canada," Tavares said of the constant pressure back home. "Sometimes in a big city, you can hide from that a little bit. It'll be nice to just be myself, learn my way around the team and focus on hockey."

For Tavares, who has earned the reputation as a player mature and focused beyond his 18 years, hockey is his primary concern. Although his position with the team is all but certain, Tavares will not head into training camp with the attitude that his roster spot is secure.

"I definitely have to prove myself like everyone else and earn my ice time, but that's my goal - to play for the New York Islanders - and that's what I'm going to focus on doing," Tavares said.

The most immediate challenge for him will be to acclimate to coach Scott Gordon's fast-paced forechecking system.

"At prospect camp I got a little taste of it," Tavares said. "There will still be some learning curves and adjustments, but I'll definitely be asking a lot of questions to the coaching staff and the players. I try to absorb it all."

From what he already has seen, however, Tavares believes he can flourish in the system Gordon has implemented.

"He wants me to use my strengths," Tavares said. "He knows what I'm able to do with the puck in the offensive zone and that will allow me to be creative, which I like."

With training camp in Saskatoon approaching this weekend, Tavares' anticipation and excitement is growing. And he's not afraid to admit that some nerves accompany those sentiments.

"A little bit," Tavares said. "But I think that's a good thing. I've been working hard my whole life for this, and I think I'm just getting excited for it to start."

New York Sports