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Grading the Islanders: John Tavares, only the franchise

All John Tavares did last season was withstand the crescendo of hype he'd been dealing with since age 14, assume the burden of a long-tortured franchise's next "face," and -- despite a terrible mid-winter slump that saw him net just 7 points in 30 games running up to the Olympic break -- lead the Islanders in scoring by season's end.

Soon after the Olympics, there was a big 5-point night in Vancouver that no doubt exorcised some demons and spoke of his arrival to their lapdog local media. And yet his biggest moment, certainly his most symbolic, may have been this on Opening Night (video clip after the jump, which is after the poll if you're on the homepage):

After assisting on Mark Streit's powerplay goal for his first NHL point, Tavares lifted a backhand in to get his first NHL goal in front of the home fans who were waiting to erupt and celebrate a special moment in the franchise's history: Another confirmation that fortunes were finally, slowly turning for the better.

It's funny, when I look back at my thoughts after that home opener, I can see myself cautioning calm within, to not overreact -- when my memory of the night was nothing but sheer joy despite the shootout "loss." The road taken by Tavares after the night was in aggregate pretty predictable: He had hot streaks, he had long slumps, he had a lot of growing pains adapting to the league.

But such is the fate for top global talents in their age group when they hit 18: They maybe aren't ready for the NHL, but they sure don't belong back in juniors for another year. So they're thrown to the wolves, where even a struggling season can equate to leading an NHL team in scoring.

The Data

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG QoC TOI PPtoi PKtoi Sh%
2009-10 - John Tavares 82 24 30 54 -15 22 11 4th/12 18:00
4:08 0:03

So, how to evaluate John Tavares' season? On one hand I'd say he met my expectations of a rookie such as he completely. I was among those back in the fall saying anything between 20 and 30 goals would be right on target. The route he took to get there was circuitous -- so hot early, so cold in the middle, surprised me -- but players seldom produce in a consistent, straight line, least of all teenagers adapting to the best league on this planet*.

*I guess technically this solar system, and quite likely this galaxy, although you never know. There's a lot out there.

I certainly made my homer argument that Tavares shouldn't have been excluded from Calder consideration just because he didn't tear the league up like some Crosby -- always an unfair comparison but indicative of the kind of hype lumped on each year's #1 pick.

However, I strongly encourage another look at the work of BenHasna here to see just how bad Tavares was during his mid-season slump -- and how promising his late season recovery was. Essentially, from mid-December to the Olympic break, every Islander forward who had the opportunity (Bailey, Okposo, Moulson, Comeau, Hunter) at 5-on-5 saw worse results with Tavares than without him.

As Ben concluded, that big finish was about what a team should expect from its first line, and JT will need to produce like that over a whole season to be the center we all hope he can be. Considering his much-lauded work ethic, and considering he was just a 19-year-old on a bottom-tier team, I like his chances.

The Poem

No words this time. Just some visual poetry, with the theme "I know what Tavares did last summer" (Scroll to the 9:00 minute mark of this clip):

The Grade

As you can tell from the text above, I'm not entirely sure by what standard to grade a guy like Tavares on his baptism into the league. But generally how we do these is grade players based on what you thought they'd do before the season began, and how well you think they met that expectation.

This officially closes out our report cards on the Islanders 2009-10 season. After enough votes are received on this one, I'll tally up all of them and show a full roster report card (minus traded guys and incompletes).

What Next?

We'll get into this more as we run up to the new season (it's coming, folks -- quite soon), but this does feed the question of what we expect from him in 2010-11: Personally, I'm expecting stronger on his feet, better trained for the rigors of the NHL's 82-game season, a presumably healed foot (small fracture at the World Championships), and a guy who better understands the requirements of a two-way NHL game, with all these sneaky vets who know tricks that kids in juniors do not. Oh, and 30+ goals for sure.

What about you?