Over the offseason, [John Tavares] focused on his strength and conditioning - and it looks like the gym work is paying off on the ice.
"I was worn down and I was tired," he said. "So I knew that summer was going to be big for me to change a lot of things - not only on the ice but off the ice. That's eating well, sleeping well, taking care of my body and doing all the right things."
There's really no good reason to think John Tavares doesn't have the "heart" or determination to become as great of a professional hockey player as he can be -- a lethal sniper and a team player. The shop talk knocks on him, which seem to emerge from one corner or another late in every top prospect's draft year, are likely just that.
All that's left for the Islanders to decide is if they believe Victor Hedman is likely to be that generational defenseman who can anchor a team for a decade -- one who won't make you regret passing on Tavares. That means something more than a Zdeno Chara, in my book -- and that's quite a projection to make of an 18-year-old blueliner.
Of course, Hedman is saying all the right things, displaying determination and showing he's no mental slouch himself. Hedman is reportedly on Long Island right now visiting with the Islanders. As we finally enter the month of the draft, my belief in the power of an anchor defenseman hasn't changed. But I'm still leaning toward Tavares -- the surest bang and impact for the buck.
But what about the Islanders' second pick, which will be at #26 or could even be higher if they make a push to move up? Everyone says, "The Islanders need offense" when advocating Tavares, but the truth is they need defense, too. But at least there are some potential defensive gems already in the system. For the next pick, unless there is a blueliner they like but didn't expect to see still on the table, I bet they go with another scorer.
Western College Hockey Blog took a stab at a mock draft. After Tavares at #1, he has the Islanders selecting Kitchener-bound U.S. center Jeremy Morin (THN has him at #21; Central Scouting at #33). Morin is said by some to be "the best pure shooter in the draft" but needs to improve his skating. THN's write-up went so far as to say he "might have better instincts around the net than any other player in this draft."
TSN had this blip about Morin from the Combine: "Jeremy Morin (#33) had a decent workout. His vertical was quite good, while everything else was solid but not spectacular." So there's that.
In the paint-by-numbers nature of media scouting reports, "skating" is always a popular knock. But what about when skating is one of a prospect's obvious strengths? Enter U.S. winger Chris Kreider (#24 by THN, #14 among N.A. skaters by Central Scouting). In the wonderful anonymous lore of pre-draft hype, THN quotes one scout saying of Kreider: "He's not just the best skater in the draft, but I'm not sure there are many guys in the NHL now who skate better than this guy."
Kreider threw up at the combine after the VO2 Max test, but "it should be noted that this doesn't weigh against Kreider in the eyes of the GMs. People generally see this as a sign that a player pushed himself to the limit."
Whoever becomes the Islanders' second pick, we're sure to hear an anecdote or line of superlative praise like the above. And a knock on their skating.
Final note: Oh yeah, if for some reason you want a grey t-shirt that says "NHL Scouting Combine" on it, well, it's only $27.99!