Blog: Tavares still the most important rookie

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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Based on current projections, your 2010 Calder Trophy winner will be Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. And rightly so. The lanky wunderkind is logging huge minutes on a good team and is tied for third in rookie scoring with 32 points through 58 games.

Also in the mix will be Colorado’s Matt Duchene, who leads all freshman scorers with 40 points right now and plays for a surprisingly good Avs squad.

But the most important rookie this season is still John Tavares. The New York Islanders center is second to Duchene in scoring with 33 points, but his overall impact on his team cannot be measured by stats alone.

Tuesday night, Tavares potted the shootout winner on home ice for the Isles, who scrambled on the power play to tie the Nashville Predators in the dying seconds to force extra time in the first place.

Johnny T now has three goals in four shootout attempts at Nassau Coliseum, rising to the occasion whenever the home fans need a hero.

But in a bigger sense, Tavares has delivered on the promise he came with when the Isles tabbed him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 draft; he became the face of the franchise; something to look forward to and a player worth the price of admission.

His offensive capabilities make him a weapon the opposition always needs to watch, which is having a trickle-down effect on New York’s other youngsters.

Kyle Okposo, who left the University of Minnesota just before the 2008 world juniors to join the Isles (with a stop in American League Bridgeport along the way), looks like a completely different player since Tavares came to Long Island. The sturdy right winger is obviously still a youngster himself and growth over the years is expected, but Okposo looks more involved and more dangerous playing on Tavares’ wing.

Matt Moulson, who began the season on a tear while playing on Tavares’ left side, is still putting up numbers even though the duo has been broken up. The fact the Islanders have a legitimate threat on two lines now must seem like a miracle to long-suffering New York fans.

Not that the team is out of the woods. Right now the squad is all kids and no veteran scoring, other than 32-year-old defenseman Mark Streit. But with Tavares in place, GM Garth Snow can go out this summer and dangle a spot on his young phenomenon’s line as a reason for a top-line winger to make the move to Suffolk County next year.

All in all, what more can a franchise ask of a 19-year-old?

As Calgary desperately tried to even the score with Ottawa Tuesday night, I couldn’t help think about how exciting the practice of pulling the goalie is. I know it’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s one of the coolest things in hockey.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons made reference to a football interception that goes for a touchdown being one of the greatest things to see in a game, but I think pulling the goalie offers more.

The biggest reason is that both fan bases have something to cheer for. If you’re up a goal, it’s not only the mad defensive scramble to keep the puck out of the net, but also the chance someone will wing the puck down the ice with enough speed to gently slide into the back of the unprotected net. Will it hit the net or go wide? It always seems to take forever, which is part of the fun.

And naturally if you’re down a goal, scoring with the goalie pulled is the ultimate vindication, plus there’s the heightened anxiety thanks to the fact that one defensive slip-up will lead to a sure empty-net goal that will definitely end the game.

Finally, it gives play-by-play guys the perfect frenzied setting to show off their craft. In the Ottawa game, Sportsnet’s Dean Brown punctuated a key defensive scrum in front of the Sens net by yelling out, “scrammm-BULLLLL!”

It got me amped – and I was a neutral observer.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

The Hockey News

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