The suspense is over: John Tavares is a New York Islander.
The Isles kept everybody guessing right until the moment GM Garth Snow stepped up the podium to announce who the club would choose with the first overall pick in the draft. In the end, the Islanders’ chose the highest ranked sniper in Tavares, a player who broke Wayne Gretzky’s career OHL scoring record.
Snow was excited by the opportunity to add Tavares to his team’s roster. “Our goal was to find the best player in this draft that will become an integral piece to us winning a Stanley Cup,” Snow said. “John has been a game-breaking type of player at every level he has played and will add a scoring touch to our lineup.”
A crowd of more than 10,000 Islanders’ fans who gathered for the team’s Draft Party at the Nassau Coliseum were excited when the announcement was made. They gave the team a lengthy standing ovation for choosing Tavares, a player they hope will improve their anemic attack. The New York ranked 29th in the NHL in goal scoring in 2008-09.
Tavares is excited about joining the Islanders. “It was obviously a great moment for me and a special feeling,” Tavares said shortly after the pick was announced. “I couldn’t be more happy right now and excited about my opportunity to play for Long Island and the Islanders.”
Last season, Tavares led the OHL with 58 goals and 104 points last season. He also was named MVP of the World Junior Championships and led Canada to a gold medal. The 6′ 195-pound Oakville, Ontario, native should join the Islanders in 2009-10 and will be expected to make an immediate offensive contribution.
Tavares is confident he is ready for the pressure and expectations that go along with being the top pick in the draft. “I think I’m a guy who understands being in the spotlight, what it’s all about, and how to handle all the expectations,” Tavares admitted. “I know it’s only going to get greater. Like I said, it’s an exciting time for everybody on Long Island and where the team is going in the future…Obviously your goal is to bring success to where you’re going to play. And I’ve got a great passion and heart for the game and very determined and focused on where I want to be and what I want to be able to do.”
Isles’ great Bob Nystrom who was at the club’s Draft Party, thinks Tavares can play a big role in the Islanders’ rebuilding plan. “You look at a team like Chicago and it took their guys (Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane) a few years to come into their own,” Nystrom said. “I think because it’s a younger team, Tavares has the ability to really come in and not feel pressure from the older players. It will take him a little while to adjust, but he’s really adjusted well to all situations.”
The Islanders were thrilled to have Tavares, but they weren’t done in the first round. They made two trades to move from the 26th pick down to the 12th pick and selected defenseman Calvin De Haan.
De Haan was second in points among OHL rookie defensemen, scoring 8 goals and adding 55 assists for the Oshawa Generals. Scouts say he has excellent hockey sense and can contribute offensively but right now lacks strength and size at 6′ 173 pounds. Most experts had De Haan ranked as a late first round selection.
While De Haan admits he may be a year or two away from playing in the NHL, he eventually sees himself as an offensive defenseman. “I think I could be a power player for the Islanders, a puck moving type of guy, a guy like Mark Streit,” De Haan said. “I also try to play like a guy like Scott Niedermayer. He’s been my idol since they went on a Cup run a few years ago and I try to model my game after him.”
The Islanders still have two choices in the second round, which begins Saturday morning at 10:00 ET including the opening pick (31st overall) and the 56th overall selection.
Right now, the Islanders and their fans are celebrating the selection of John Tavares. They hope that 20 years from now, June 26, 2009, will go down as a turning point in Islanders’ history.