Heading into the 2009-10 season, all the talk on Long Island has and will continue to center around John Tavares
-- the No. 1 selection in the 2009 Entry Draft.
Even before No. 91 became the newest member of the New York Islanders
in June, Tavares sat down with veteran center Doug Weight
for breakfast with the discussion revolving around life in the NHL. Weight, who could very well skate on the same line as the 18-year-old, was highly impressed with how Tavares carried himself.
"John's a really nice kid," Weight told NHL.com. "It was before he was drafted, but I wanted to meet him. Since he was drafted, we've spoken on the phone a couple of times. He's been under more pressure than I was at his age. The kids that come up have got to be warned about the strength of the men in the League. It takes its toll over a long season."
Weight also made Tavares aware of issues that he will face off the ice -- issues that can take away the enjoyment of going to the rink every day.
"I want him to be prepared and have good people in place in his life," Weight said. "My first year, I was 'behind the eight ball' in (paying) bills and getting this and that. You've got to have people in life that you trust. You want to get through those first couple of years just playing hockey -- like you're in junior again. You want to enjoy it and not have a lot on your mind."
That being said, Weight is confident that Tavares will handle everything thrown his way.
"He's on the ball," Weight said. "The kid's been through a lot the last three or four years. There's been a lot of pressure on him. I think he'll handle this fine. He's got a lot of confidence, but he's a real respectful kid. He wants to be the best at everything he does. I can just see it in his eyes. I'm excited for him."
Signed to a one-year deal by the Islanders last summer, Weight got off to a tremendous start before being sidetracked by injuries. He appeared in 53 games and scored 10 goals and 28 assists. Now healthy, a refreshed Weight is eager to get back on the ice and show that he's still capable of being a top-six forward.
"The way I felt in the first 30 games, I really hadn't had that feeling in three or four years," Weight said. "I really felt strong. Hopefully I can keep healthy and do the same thing throughout the whole year."
He's not the only one who is hopeful of that. After all, the Islanders had nearly 600 man games lost to injury in 2008-09 -- arguably the biggest reason why they finished with the fewest points (61) in the NHL. But with reinforcements Dwayne Roloson
and Martin Biron
between the pipes and Tavares on board, the Isles are confident they'll be playing meaningful games in February and March.
"It was almost a joke," Weight said. "Eight of our best players were out for more than 25 games. We were a thin group. But we've got a couple of guys who are a year older. We've got some experienced goaltending in the net, no matter which way it plays out. You never know. I just want to be in a playoff race. We'll see what happens."
There's little question, though, that Weight will be relied on by coach Scott Gordon
to help the young players along. He'll have to carry more of the load in that department now that former captain Bill Guerin
is a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins
"I think that's just part of the description once you hit my age," said Weight, who turns 39 in January. "We've got five or six guys that are under the age of 22, and certainly John is going to be a big piece of this team for a long time to come. I want to be a leader on the ice, as well as off the ice. I want to help these kids any way I can. They keep you young coming to the rink."
When he decides to hang up the blades, perhaps we'll see Weight behind the bench one day wearing a suit and tie?
"My whole life has been this game," said Weight, who has appeared in 1,184 NHL games. "I love the game and I know the game well. I feel like I know talent well. I don't know what area I'd want to be with. It's never the same as walking under that tunnel and being on that ice. But I'd love to be part of the game."
Contact Brian Compton at email@example.com