With each passing season since, Tavares has gotten better. He was a Hart Trophy finalist last season, and he helped the Islanders return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a six-year hiatus. That's why it was no surprise when he was named the 14th captain in franchise history Monday during a press conference at Bethpage State Park.
"It's pretty special," said Tavares, who replaces Mark Streit as captain after the veteran defenseman was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers in June. "You understand the responsibility, but at the same time, I don't think too much will change. I'm not going to try and force anything. It's a great group, and being here with the guys, it just feels like we're back to normal. So many familiar faces … a few new guys, but guys that are going to fit in really well. The group's really growing together nicely, so I don't think the feel or the atmosphere of our guys, or the naming of me captain, is going to change a whole lot.
"But it's a great honor, especially part of such a great team and organization like the Islanders."
Tavares, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday Sept. 20, has led the Islanders in scoring in each of his first four seasons in the NHL. In 291 games, he has 112 goals and 137 assists. He finished third in the League with 28 goals in 48 games last season and had three goals and two assists in New York's six-game loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Though his skill set is unquestioned, it's Tavares' work ethic that has allowed him to establish himself as one of the better players in the League at such an early age.
"He's always trying to take his game to the next level, and that gets contagious in a locker room," Islanders general manager Garth Snow said. "He's a perfect captain for our team and we're looking forward to getting the season started.
"From the day we drafted John we knew he had a high skill set and that he could dominate on the ice. It's been fun to see him take on a leadership role and I think people from the outside now recognize what a high-character person he is and what a leader he is. John's in a good spot with the 'C' because he has a lot of character people around him in that locker room."
Tavares attributed his early success in the League to veteran players Streit and Doug Weight, each a former captain of the Islanders. Weight is an assistant coach and a senior adviser to Snow.
VIDEO: ISLANDERS COVERAGE
"I think I've been pretty comfortable in my shoes," Tavares said. "I've learned a lot since Day One, especially from Dougie and from Mark. They've become two great friends of mine. I've learned a lot from what they did as captains. I think I do lead more by example, but I think every year I've grown and become more vocal and comfortable within the locker room. I think that'll continue."
Ready to compete in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders are eager to build off their first playoff appearance since 2007. With young players Tavares, Travis Hamonic, Josh Bailey, Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo already in place and more on the horizon (Ryan Strome, Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock, to name a few), the worst seems to be behind a franchise that is two seasons away from moving into Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
And now, the face of the franchise is also its captain, ready to lead the Islanders to bigger and better things.
"We're extremely bullish on where we stand now and in the future," Snow said. "It's nice to see. I know it was painful at times, but it's been worth the wait."