His face already shows the nicks of NHL battles. His minutes started high and stayed there. His passing vision made a seamless jump to the NHL. He's played 1st-line center and taken important faceoffs. And he's put up points, leading the Islanders in scoring. Ten days and four games after his NHL career officially began, John Tavares has delivered as billed.
No one (realistically) expected him to set the world on fire right away. Many of us wondered if he would -- or should -- start at left wing to ease his transition. No one knew how he'd fare taking NHL faceoffs. His most-cited "weakness," his skating, has not kept him from responsibly getting back and patrolling his own zone. (In truth he, Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson have naturally spent a lot of time keeping the puck in the other team's zone.)
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You don't make a career out of four games, but in his first weeks in the NHL Tavares has at least put to rest any repressed fears that the worst pre-draft language about him would come to pass. We've already shot through Phase I ("He can play here, right?"). Even if all the Islanders bought was a guy who can snipe confidently like his postage-stamp goal over Tuukka Rask, then they'd have something special. But thankfully they got more than that.
He's been appreciative of this opportunity and the helping hand from veteran Doug Weight. He's been level-headed throughout. He's answered the media scrum after every game, part of the package for each year's #1 hype.
I want him to be more assertive on the powerplay, but teams appear to be cheating to his side, trying to keep him in the corner -- and the Islanders powerplay has hardly suffered as a result. I want him to be dominant on faceoffs -- but he's 19, playing against skilled, savvy veterans. I want him to be entertaining in interviews -- but being a focal point since he's 14, having to answer the same questions at every stop, I'm just happy he's taken it all in stride as part of the job.
Here he is post-game, after the 2-1 loss to the Kings yesterday, being philosophical about what the Islanders need to do and why he believes they can do it:
Albeezle asked in yesterday's recap: What was everyone expecting?
I'm not sure what I expected -- other than to be guarded in my expectations early on. But I'm pleasantly surprised that he and 21-year-old Okposo hit the ground running this season, quickly establishing themselves as the two most dangerous Islanders night in and night out.
Now, the Isles need a win. Tavares -- and Okposo, and the unsung Moulson -- will have their ruts and funks that leave us wondering what's wrong. Team-wise, there is much to work on, and roster-wise the team needs a little of everything. But on the matter of selecting one John Tavares, Franchise Savior and Immediate Jolt, #1 overall last June? I'm quite pleased. And you?