- Paul Grant
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Poor John Tavares. Being the best player on the New York Islanders is like being the best musician in One Direction: No one really takes you seriously. But Tavares is legitimate, the first-overall pick from 2009 showing one way or another, season after season, that he doesn't care that people think the Islanders are a joke and that he should have demanded a trade at some point in his four laugh-riot seasons.
Short-season mojo: The lockout-shortened season seemed to be just what Tavares needed. Young players eventually get burned out by the heavy-duty drag that is the NHL season, especially when coming off the shorter seasons in junior. Last season, Tavares managed to maintain his point-a-game pace, putting the pedal down without hesitation, no doubt revitalized by having a bit of a break entering his fourth season and not having to meet full-season expectations. In some ways, it was like an OHL season all over, what with fewer games and no travel outside your time zone. As a result, Tavares had more time and success on the power play, his shooting percentage was much higher and he almost managed to get his plus/minus above sea level on the traditionally defensively submerged Islanders. And, along the way, he made the Islanders into an exciting team to watch that scared the bejeebers out of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round.
Why it will be tough to repeat: You just never know what GM Garth Snow has up his sleeve, and that's got to be distracting for a young leader coming into his own. Regardless, Snow should do the right thing and make Tavares the next Islanders' captain, which is well-earned but will add extra weight to Tavares' already heavy burden. Also worth keeping an eye on is whether the Islanders will have an overachievers' hangover from last season or take the next step in their development and storm their way into the playoffs instead of sneaking in the side door.
Verdict: Realignment won't challenge the Islanders more than they were already -- adding the Washington Capitals to the division is about it -- so they can't use that as an excuse. Regardless, Tavares will maintain his solid production amid the constant circus that is Long Island. (Brooklyn will really dig this kid, so 2014-15 could be an even bigger season.) Look for him to again hit the point-a-game pace of his past two seasons.
13dScott Burnside and Craig Custance