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Tavares heads home to get ready for life in the NHL

Thursday, 07.16.2009 / 2:21 PM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - Columnist

John Tavares left Long Island for his home in Oakville, Ont., on Thursday for his last few weeks of being a kid -- and to get ready for life in the NHL.

He'll have a lot of money to spend, if he so desires, after concluding his first professional hockey activity -- New York Islanders prospect development camp -- by signing a three-year, entry-level deal with the Isles, who took him with the first pick in last month's Entry Draft.

When he returns to the Islanders in September, he'll be a few days away from turning 19, and will be counted on as a key part of the Isles' effort to rebuild after finishing last in the standings in 2008-09.

"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 after finishing his stay at camp.

And what does a suddenly rich 18-year-old do with a big bonus? Tavares isn't saying.

"I've thought about it a little bit. We'll see," he said when asked what his first purchase would be, adding that he wouldn't go on a spending spree just because he signed a big contract. "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."

It's that approach that has Islanders GM Garth Snow and coach Scott Gordon eager to get the new season started.

"I wish we were starting now -- well, next week. I'd like the weekend off," Snow joked after watching one last day of Tavares and the team's other prospects at camp Wednesday.

On a more serious note, Snow said he was impressed not only with Tavares' considerable on-ice skills, but with his ability to handle all the off-ice distractions that have come along with being a Canadian junior star for years, the No. 1 pick in the draft and the focal point in a rebuilding effort that's seemingly gone on forever.

"The attention is something that comes with the territory, especially being the first overall pick." Snow said. "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."

Gordon, who is entering his second season as coach of the Islanders, also was impressed with the way Tavares handled all the off-ice obligations.

"He's had a tougher schedule than anybody, with all the demands that were put on him -- the testing, the interviews, the travel, coming in to throw out the first pitch with the Mets (before a game against the Yankees on June 28)," Gordon said. "For me, it's just about him and all the players getting used to what we're going to do in training camp, and I don't look at it as any more than that. It (handling the distractions) didn't affect his work ethic or his attitude on the ice. He's been doing this for a while, and I'm sure he's well-prepared for it."

Gordon said one major goal of the development camp was to get Tavares and the other participants ready for life as professional hockey players.

"One of the things we talked about was just understanding that whatever your success rate has been in the past, you're playing against men," he said. "You're playing against players that are stronger and faster than what you've played against, and you have to match that. We've seen a huge improvement in (2008 first-round pick) Josh Bailey in a year's time -- he got home and took some time off and then got right at it. Already, the transformation in his body and the way he's carrying himself on the ice -- it's there.

"I don't think Josh knew last summer what it was going to take to go through his first NHL year. I think John is probably a step up on that because I think he has a better grasp of that and will be able to act upon it and hopefully have some more building blocks going into the season."

Snow agreed that Tavares will go through some major adjustments when he reports to the Isles' training camp in September -- but he feels it's nothing the young center can't handle after becoming a hockey celebrity when he became the first 14-year-old drafted into the Ontario Hockey League.
"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." -- Islanders GM Garth Snow

"I think like any 18-year-old who comes to an NHL training camp, it's going to be an adjustment -- whether it's strength, speed ... he's going to be in a situation where he's moving up a level," Snow said. "Much like his adjustment when he started junior hockey -- there was probably an adjustment level for him at that point in time, and there will be an adjustment here.

"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. 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."

Come September, when the Isles head for training camp in Saskatoon, he actually will be a professional -- and he wants to be sure he's ready.

"This (development camp) gives you a taste or an idea of what it's going to be like with practice and the lifestyle and how things go at the rink," Tavares said. "Being more comfortable with people makes it a lot easier coming to camp. I still have to work on a lot of things, getting physically stronger and getting my pace up to NHL standards."

Quote of the Day

It seems like I'm kind of making it a little difficult on myself here the last two games.

— Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane after tying the record for longest point streak by an American-born player with an assist on Duncan Keith's goal with 26.6 seconds left against the Anaheim Ducks Friday
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