- Katie Strang, ESPN.com
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UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- John Tavares has taken more than the next step in his development as a third-year NHL player. He's taken a giant leap.
The 21-year-old center scored his third career hat trick to lead the New York Islanders to their third straight victory, a 4-2 win Saturday over the rival New York Rangers in front of a sellout crowd at Nassau Coliseum.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov got the win in his first start as an Islander, stopping 29 of 31 shots.
It was the second straight four-point performance for Tavares, who finished with two goals and two assists in the team's 5-1 rout of Tampa Bay on Thursday, and a reminder of how far he's come since entering the league as a reserved 19-year-old.
"I still see him as a goofy kid," Tavares' good friend and linemate Matt Moulson said jokingly. "But he's just committed to being one of the best players in the game. He's playing with a lot confidence right now. And when he does that he's a scary player to play against."
His masterful play was highlighted by a pair of power-play goals against a stunningly undisciplined Rangers squad that has been held winless in its first three games of the season.
Tavares gave the Islanders a 2-1 lead in the second, backhanding the puck past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist at 11:47, and he scored the deciding goal with a redirect of defenseman Mark Streit's shot 3:30 into the third.
"It's nice to produce. It's what I do best, obviously," said Tavares, who signed a six-year $33 million contract extension last month. "I take a lot of pride in it and it's nice to come through."
With a little over a minute left in regulation and Lundqvist on the Rangers' bench, Moulson and P.A. Parenteau got the puck to Tavares for an empty-netter and his first hat trick of the season.
"That was a hell of a play, a bit of a risky play there with the last minute and us only up by a goal," Tavares said. "I wasn't calling for it, because I was trying to do the right play, but they gave me a hell of a play and I had the easy finish."
Scoreless in his first two games, Tavares seems primed for a breakout season with eight points (five goals, three assists) over the past two. He's not the same player he was as a rookie, when he struggled to find his pace at times despite an impressive 24-goal campaign. And he's made dramatic improvements from his sophomore season -- a solid 29-goal, 67-point effort. Tavares is blossoming into the player the Islanders saw when they called his name first overall in the 2009 draft, and he's only scratched the surface.
"Like I said his first year, he's only going to get better every year the more he matures and understands what he's capable of," Moulson said. "You're seeing glimpses of it here."
John Tavares showed glimpses of his stardom in the Islanders win.