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Islanders Grades: John Tavares, coming along just fine, thanks

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Note: After taking care of the RFAs (Okposo here, Bailey there, Comeau yonder) and about-to-leave UFAs (Hillen here, Martinek there, Zeke yonder) over the last couple of months, it's time to weigh in with more report cards on the Islanders who are still part of The Program. That begins at center, with John Tavares; check his stats and vote in the poll after the jump.

John Tavares was touted so much even before his draft year began that the opportunity to disappoint was high. Unlike some prospects who go into their draft year ranked #1, Tavares held that ranking throughout the year and the team with the #1 pick followed through to keep him there.

While some already declare a "re-draft" of 2009 would go differently, that's never much concerned me. What does concern me: Is Tavares progressing, working on the vulnerabilities in his NHL game while continuing to score as hoped? So far, so good.

I think most fans believe -- certainly I think they should believe -- that Tavares, despite his junior scoring records, was never expected to be a "generational superstar" on the level of some recent #1 picks the NHL has been blessed with. He wasn't supposed to take over games at both ends from his first game like some such Crosby, and in reality he will always need help for his team to make the most of his strengths.

But what I hoped of Tavares in June 2009 is, so far, what I think I'm seeing, with a few caveats. I expected his "sniper" shot from distance would be more lethal than it's been; I had no idea his passing and vision would be so sublime. His skating, which improved last year (or maybe "strength on his feet"), keeps him from being an end-to-end dynamic force. His ability to find quiet areas and set up temporary "offices" around the net has translated to the NHL level, whether it's somehow finding openings on the doorstep for tap-ins or somehow carving out space for lethal passes from behind the net.

Outsiders assume Matt Moulson's success must be due to Tavares, when in reality those of us who watch closely know Moulson has been a better two-way player than Tavares thus far. But when you look at some of the passes to -- and attention drawn away from -- Moulson that Tavares provides, you know Moulson probably doesn't get to back-to-back 30-goal seasons without benefiting from his buddy's special attributes.

The Stats

GP G A P +/- PIM PPG QoC TOI PPtoi PKtoi Sht Sh% FO
2009-10 - John Tavares 82 24 30 54 -15 22 11 4th/12 18:00 4:08 0:03 186 12.9 47.5%
2010-11 - John Tavares 79 29 38 67 -16 53 9 2nd/10 19:15 3:30 0:10 242 11.9 52.5%

To review 2010-11 in brief: Tavares saw more overall ice time per game, less powerplay time overall (though still a lot), got off more shots in fewer games, and grabbed more goals and won a higher percentage of his faceoffs.

Of note, he did all this while facing stronger competition overall than his rookie year. Both Islanders head coaches, Scott Gordon and Jack Capuano, continued to get him out there as much as possible in offensively advantageous situations -- his first line with Moulson and P.A. Parenteau all received ~55% offensive zone starts, which is a healthy 10 percentage point difference over any of their forward teammates.

His Corsi Rel was also appropriately high within his team, behind only Parenteau and Corsi maestros Frans Nielsen and Michael Grabner (who can start a shift getting shelled in some World War I trench and finish it parading down Broadway with ticker tape accolades). Overall, signs are pointed in the right direction since amid this context JT's production increased -- as you would expect it would for a 20-year-old sophomore, but especially for one as dedicated to improving his game as Tavares is.

Also of note: Tavares did not go through a lengthy slump like that long winter drought he suffered during his rookie year. That 2009-10 slump, when Gordon actually limited his ice time on some nights, may explain how his overall ice time increased by over a minute per game this season. Because Gordon certainly relied on Tavares heavily when things were going right.

Gratuitous Video Clip

This wasn't from this past season -- it was from his rookie year, when he set up "Matt Coulson" in Vancouver -- but it's representative of some great setups we saw from JT this past year. I'd have looked harder for highlights, but...I'm on the beach.

...and here's one that's actually from this past season, though it's still not the pass I was looking for:

The Poem/Lyric

If you're new to our LHH Islanders Report Cards, I regret (not really) to inform you that it's a tradition to have to sit through (or skim past) some sort of poem or lyric for the report card subject of the day. Lucky you though, I'm on the beach this week so I couldn't come up with one...

... oh wait! Pilsner Urquell speaks!

This should be the poem of Tavares
But this writer is at the beach
And can only think as far as
The cooler within arm's reach

In the sun he dreams of seeing
Strome or Nino on JT's wing
But alas, for the time being
He must grab another drink

By reading this you're the type, it seems
Who's stuck at work this week
So kindly tell us your Islander dreams
Like the wingers for JT you seek

Note: I'm not really in the "Tavares needs new wingers" camp. But who doesn't imagine which Islanders prospects might one day earn the role?

The Grade

Either you all have been clicking "refresh" way more often than normal or we've attracted a few more regulars to the site with last month's draft and this month's general free agency what-not. So if you're new to our "Report Card" exercise, it's geared around us talking about the season that was regarding a specific player, thinking about what we expected from that player back in training camp, and hazarding an assessment on how well he measured up to those expectations.

Please vote your "grade" for Tavares's 2010-11 season based on the preseason expectations you had. Use comments to discuss any aspect of his play, his future, or your surviving blowing things up last night.