UNIONDALE – When the NHL All-Star roster was announced Thursday afternoon, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that New York Islanders forward John Tavares would make the team for the first time in his career. His teammates also felt that he’d be the guy to get into the All-Star Game.
“A lot of the guys felt I had a good chance,” Tavares said after being informed that he made the team. “Some of them congratulated me earlier and I told them they were going to jinx it. … I didn’t think about it a lot, but it’s just a great thrill.”
So how did Tavares, who leads the Islanders with 40 points (15 goals, 25 assists), elevate his game to an All-Star level? If you ask his coach and linemates, it’s his work ethic. Earlier in the season Islanders head coach Jack Capuano had called Tavares a “student of the game” noting his desire to be the best player in the league.
“Johnny’s one of those guys that takes a lot of pride in his game on both sides of the puck,” Capuano said when asked about Tavares’ play. “He’s getting his chances from his defensive play. Again it’s his work ethic. We all knew he had the skill level and the vision and the creativity that he has, but he’s elevated his game to an all-star level. He’s really helping carrying our team right now. To me it’s just his battle level and he’s much stronger on the puck and his puck protection.”
Tavares has easily been the Islanders' most crucial player this season. His strong play on the puck and his natural playmaking abilities has orchestrated Islander comebacks and created several highlight reel plays this season. Tavares could also do something that only former Islander Ziggy Palffy has done, and that is account for over 40 percent of the team’s points for a full season, a feat Palffy accomplished during the 1997-98 season. Tavares accounts for 41.9 percent currently.
“Johnny’s been playing terrific for us,” commented Tavares’ linemate Kyle Okposo. “A guy like that, who can find you, just makes smart plays and his work ethic has been so great this year. I think that’s one thing that’s really improved with him is he just works so hard and that’s why he’s having some of the success he has had.”
In Okposo’s last five games he has scored four goals. Tavares has played a role in setting up Okposo in three of those four goals and has been credited with helping to reinvigorate Okposo’s play. “He’s a very special player and it helps your confidence anytime you play with him,” Okposo said about playing on a line with Tavares.
One player who is quite familiar with Tavares’s play and work ethic is his linemate, former roommate and good friend Matt Moulson.
“He’s playing all right,” Moulson said with a grin when asked about his friend's on-ice performance. “I said it from day one, and I’ve known him for a long time, he’s an extremely competitive person on and off the ice in everything he does. He’s focused on getting this team to where we need to be and he works on his game consistently, doing all the little things and getting better. He’s only going to get better.”
Tavares is just 21 years old and undoubtedly has many more years of hockey left to play. If his progress this season is any indication of what’s to come down the road, then Islander fans should be prepared to see him in a lot more All-star Games.
“I felt I’ve been getting better every year, every game,” Tavares said. “I feel like I’m just getting to know the league a lot better. I feel my game is evolving, just me as a person, and I think it’s all translating and coming together every year, everyday. It's another step for me. It's exciting to know when you're recognized like this, you know you're doing some good things and you know you're making an impact out there. That's what I'm trying to do.”
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