In the span of just one year seemingly everything has changed, while simultaneously not changing at all for Islanders defenseman Devon Toews. Just one year ago at training camp ahead of the 2018-19 season, Toews was a budding blueliner looking to make his NHL debut.
So, one year later, after posting 18 points (5G, 13A) in 48 games and quarterbacking the Islanders power pla in the postseason, you might think Toews would consider his job pretty well secured, but that's far from the case.
"The mindset is the same," Toews said. "It hasn't changed. I still have yet to earn an opening night spot for this season. So, I think you just come in to training camp, work hard and want to prove that. Nothing here is given you have to earn it. I know that."
Despite the coaching staff feeling that he could have made the Isles roster out of camp last year, Toews was sent down to Bridgeport for more seasoning. Toews' patience, work ethic and offense did not go unnoticed, as he strung together 19 points in 24 games in Bridgeport. When he was finally called up, he played with that same poise that he displayed in training camp and never came out of the lineup. It's that very same determination that continues to drive the defensive sensation as he enters his sophomore campaign. Toews already lit the lamp on Friday night against Detroit, firing a one-timer in from the point.
"You can't get too far ahead of yourself, that's important," Toews explained. "I think you just trust the process and play your game. You try to build off of that confidence and work on improving what you can."
And after a rigorous summer split of training at Quinnipiac University - his alma mater - and back in Vancouver with fellow NHLers Morgan Rielly of the Maple Leafs and Vegas' Shea Theodore, Toews is hungrier than ever.
That fits well with Barry Trotz's "no entitlement" training camp philosophy, as Toews is his own biggest critic and always welcomes room for improvement. He embraces healthy competition, even that of a rising star in 19-year-old Noah Dobson who is equally gunning for a spot on the blueline come the season opener on October 4.
"Competition definitely helps," Toews said. "You always want that competitive environment around you when your training and practicing. It's that extra motivation to push each other and work harder. I think when you know the guy next to you is talented and hardworking it makes you want to get that much better. We have a competitive group."
That's part of the reason Toews isn't taking anything for granted. After leading the league in goals against last season, the Islanders are returning Johnny Boychuk, Thomas Hickey, Nick Leddy, Adam Pelech, Ryan Pulock and Scott Mayfield, so there are seven capable defensemen for six regular spots. The remarkable depth on the Islanders blueline - and last season's success - have set high expectations on the group and they'll have a target on their backs this season.
"That just means we have to work harder," Toews said. "[Other teams] know now that we are going to be tough on them and won't make it easy, but that's just an incentive for us to keep pushing. We have a really good group that works hard and holds each other accountable. So, I think as long as we focus on ourselves and what we can do we'll be fine."