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Tavares signs with Isles on last day of rookie camp

Wednesday, 07.15.2009 / 4:16 PM / 2009 NHL Offseason News

By John Kreiser - Columnist

SYOSSET, N.Y. -- Now that he's officially a professional hockey player, John Tavares can turn to the task of helping to revive the New York Islanders.

Tavares, the No. 1 pick in last month's Entry Draft, signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Islanders on Wednesday, the final day of the team's developmental camp. No terms were released, but General Manager Garth Snow indicated the deal included the maximum salary and bonuses available to first-year players under the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement.

"It was obviously a situation where you want to sign your first-round pick, and we were fortunate enough to get it done," Snow said.

With the signing out of the way and his first exposure to NHL hockey under his belt, Tavares met the media one last time before heading home to Oakville, Ont.

"It's another step toward being here and being a part of the organization," Tavares said of signing his first pro contract. "It's nice to have it behind me. It's not really going to change anything. I think I have to stick with what got me here, the work habits I've had and everything I've put into the game of hockey. It's not going to change the way I think or the way I live my daily life or the way I approach the game."

Tavares will have a couple of months off between now and training camp. He'll look to relax a little, but he also knows there's more work to be done.
"I'm going to go home, definitely enjoy my time at home, enjoy being a kid and being around my friends and family, and train and get ready for the season," he said. "This camp was a good experience. It was good to get my first taste of pro hockey and the Islanders. I learned a lot, and I'm taking a lot back with me to help me improve over the rest of the summer before I report to training camp. It's going to be a big couple of months for me to get ready and prepare for a big season ahead of me."

Though developmental camp isn't the kind of place where players -- even the No. 1 pick in the draft -- usually stand out, Tavares definitely made an impression on Snow, who drafted him, and Scott Gordon, who will coach him.

"My first impression is how strong he was on the puck, his hockey sense to try to make plays when it doesn't look like there's a play to be made," Snow said. "In one of the drills, he had the puck up against the boards and was trying to grab it off the boards and flip it over his head and then spin off. He's not afraid to try things like that, and we encourage it."

The Islanders finished 29th in goals last season, but Gordon feels Tavares will help change that.

"I love how he competes in the offensive zone and around the net," the second-year coach said. "His ability to protect the puck, put the puck into places that make it hard for the defender to go up against -- sometimes it looks like he has three sticks to the defender's one stick in his ability to do things with the puck. His nose around the net -- obviously a unique talent. To me that was the most evident thing that I saw about his game that really stood out.

"He has an ability around the net, his hands are quick, and with that ability to be quick, he can handle the puck. He has great balance in and around the net when he's being pressured. How that translates into success for our team -- obviously, being able to put the puck in the net will be huge for us. It doesn't mean he's going to be a 20-goal scorer; it doesn't mean he's going to be an 80-goal scorer. It's just the fact that he's going to get better as we go on, and hopefully this camp is something that's going to make him more comfortable come training camp."


Tavares has been a star for most of his hockey career. He was granted "exceptional player" status to play in the Ontario Hockey League when he was 14, led Canada to a pair of World Junior Championship gold medals and owns the OHL career goal-scoring record.

That might be enough to inflate the ego of a lot of teenagers, but Tavares has gone out of his way to emphasize during his time at camp that he's just part of a young team that hopes to grow together.

"When you talk with him and you watch him prepare for a practice or a scrimmage or a game, he's far more advanced than any other 18-year-old that I've ever played with or been in a training camp with or observed," Snow said. "He's almost at a point where he's been a professional, I think, with the scrutiny he's been under for a few years now.

"The attention is something that comes with the territory, especially being the first overall pick. He's handled it first-class all the way. When I got to know him about two months ago, I realized what a good kid and a good person he is. It was never even a concern of mine how he would handle it."

For now, Tavares can go back and enjoy the rest of the summer. His life as an NHL player is almost ready to kick into high gear.

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