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Tavares just wants to get better

by Brian Compton
John Tavares unquestionably is one of the game's brightest young stars, but he really could care less about the spotlight.

The first pick of the 2009 Entry Draft, Tavares is primed to begin his second NHL season with the hope of helping the New York Islanders qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. While he'll certainly be asked to accept more responsibility, don't expect Tavares to be shouting or flipping tables during intermissions or after games.

"I think I've always been a pretty quiet guy. I try to lead by actions," Tavares told "I'll probably be the same way (this season), just a little more comfortable with everybody. Having a year under my belt, I think I'll definitely enjoy a leadership role. I really enjoyed it in junior. I really like that responsibility. At times, I think everyone has something to say, and at times I will, too. But my main focus is to lead with the way I play."

How Tavares performs will play a major role in the Isles' postseason chances. While some wonder if Tavares can make the same jump Steven Stamkos did in his second season with Tampa Bay, others simply want Tavares to improve off his rookie season, which saw him score 24 goals and lead the team with 54 points.

Stamkos, you'll recall, had 23 goals and 23 assists for the Lightning after being picked first at the 2008 Draft. But the 20-year-old scored a League-leading 51 goals last season and established himself as one of the most dangerous players in the NHL.

"I don't know if it'll be the same, but I know that John has done everything that you could possibly ask of a player as a coach to do," Isles coach Scott Gordon said. "His skating is night-and-day better than it was last year. He's physically stronger. He looks bigger in his uniform. What he did for me after the Olympic break was a great indication of where he was going to be coming into this year. To be able to go through that long stretch of not being able to produce and then to finish up at a higher rate than he did at the beginning of the year, he made a lot of strides in small areas that are going to allow him to have a lot more success this year.

"I can't predict that he's going to do better than Stamkos, but I know that he's going to do better than John Tavares of last year because of all the effort that he's put forth this summer."

Tavares and Stamkos briefly were teammates for Team Canada at the World Championships before a foot injury ended Tavares' season. Sure, Tavares asked Stamkos for advice and asked if the latter made any adjustments in Season 2. At the end of the day, though, Tavares isn't worried about comparisons.

"Playing at the World Championships, I know Steven just told me he came into his second year and really got a good opportunity," Tavares said. "He believed in himself and what he could do. I feel the same way. Obviously, I want to make great improvements in all areas of my game. But at the same time, you've got to look at the situation. We're different players and we're on different teams and different stages of our teams. You've got to realize that. For my own expectations, it's definitely to make a big jump this year in all areas of my game. I really want to take on more responsibility of the team and just be a contributor each and every night."
"I can't predict that he's going to do better than Stamkos, but I know that he's going to do better than John Tavares of last year because of all the effort that he's put forth this summer." -- Scott Gordon

Isles GM Garth Snow didn't make it known the team was drafting Tavares until he made the announcement at the Bell Centre in Montreal on that June night. It was even reported just prior to the draft that the Islanders were going to select Matt Duchene, who ended up going third to the Colorado Avalanche. Tavares often was compared to Duchene last season, as the Avs center had 24 goals and 31 assists in 81 games.

Childhood friend and teammate Matt Moulson, who led the Isles with 30 goals last season, raved about his friend's commitment to the game and doesn't believe the comparisons to other NHL stars will end anytime soon.

"It seems like every single year he goes through his career, he's going to be compared to someone different," Moulson said of Tavares. "The first year, he was compared to Duchene and (Victor) Hedman. Now Stamkos had this great second year. I know he's going to be a great player and he's going to do great things. I think the sky's the limit for John. If I play on his line, I don't know if I'm the same as Marty St. Louis is for Stamkos, so I don't know if it's fair to compare Johnny to that. But he's a great player and he's going to do well. He trained hard over the summer. He's a very talented and focused kid. I don't want to compare him to anyone because I know how much he hates it."

The Islanders missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season in 2010, but were competitive on most nights and saw an 18-point improvement in the standings. The team added defensemen Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and James Wisniewski during the offseason as Snow dabbled in free agency but mainly stuck to his plan of building the club via the draft.

Tavares, the biggest piece to the puzzle, was relieved to see when he first arrived on Long Island that the myths he often heard about the club proved to be just that -- myths.

"Just how everything was maybe kind of disorganized … kind of just in a flux where it really wasn't an NHL franchise … it was just the impression I got from a lot of people," Tavares told "As soon as I got here, meeting Garth and meeting Charles (Wang, owner) and the rest of the organization, I realized it was first-class and we were treated first-class. We may not have the best rink in the League, but we've got passionate fans and it's great living here. It's a tremendous place to be. I love it. It's really a great spot. It's sad to see people talk (negatively) about a place like this."

The negativity likely will stop once the Islanders start winning and qualify for the playoffs on an annual basis (a new arena would help, too). But heading into the 2010-11 season, several prognosticators have the club once again finishing near the bottom of the standings. Tavares admitted he's taken notice.

"You want to prove them wrong," he said. "It really does (stink) missing the playoffs and finishing at the bottom of the standings. We know that eventually we're going to be at the top. We want to bring a Stanley Cup back to the Island. Every year we're getting better. Hopefully we can make some big strides this year.

"I know a lot of people don't think we have a great shot, but I think this could be a breakout year for us."

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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