ST. LOUIS --
Count Blues coach Ken Hitchcock as a fan of Islanders sensation John Tavares
, the No. 1 pick of the 2009 Entry Draft.
Tavares, who has 22 goals and 55 points in 56 games this season, played for Hitchcock last summer for Team Canada at the World Championship in Slovakia. He led Canada with 5 goals, 4 assists and 9 points in seven games.
"I think Tavares is an elite player in the League right now. I really liked him as a player in the World Championships," Hitchcock said. "He was arguably our best player by the end of the tournament. I think as good a player he is, I think he's still an underrated player.
"Everybody said, 'Not sure if he can help you here, blah, blah, blah.' They were worried about his speed on the big surface, which was not relevant at all. They were worried about his quickness ... he pulled away on guys. And he is really strong on the puck. To me, he's Jonathan Toews
-strong on the puck. He's a heck of a player and he has puck patience like not very many players do. He's got strength and puck patience where he's able to protect the puck ... I don't think there's maybe five guys in the League that can play like that."
Tavares said he learned a lot under Hitchcock.
"He was very thorough," Tavares said. "For young players, that can be really helpful understanding parts of the game. He understood managing the game. Coaching the game, you could tell what he expected from you and how we wanted to approach every game and what he expected out of us. He pushed the right buttons at the right times and did the right things in giving us a chance to win. It's good to see him doing well now.
"When I go to a tournament like that representing my country, it's a chance for me to learn from not only my teammates, but a guy like him that's got so much knowledge and experience in the game. I definitely tried to learn from him and find some things that can make me a great player."
Tavares' play in Slovakia certainly has carried over to his third season in the NHL.
"I just think it's the overall mindset of the player, a player that wants to be an All-Star, that wants to put the team on his back," Islanders coach Jack Capuano
said. "How do you do that? It starts in the summer, starts with his training, his preparation, how he prepares for the season. He's finding his way through this League now.
"He is an elite player. He's going to continue to get better. He's a lot stronger on the puck now, playing with more confidence and the ability to make some plays."