Tavares tagged as marquee player

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

UNIONDALE, NY -- When the Calder Trophy chatter starts, you're no longer hearing John Tavares being brought up.

Doesn't mean his rookie campaign with the New York Islanders has been a disappointment.

Tavares -- the No. 1 pick in last summer's draft -- is not leading the rookie scoring race, but has done his share with 21 goals and 43 points heading into Thursday night's clash with the Calgary Flames.

"He and Matt Moulson were leading the team," goalie Dwayne Roloson said. "We were riding their backs for a time at the start of the year and I think he started putting a lot of pressure on himself. We said, 'Johnny, relax. Play your game and whatever happens, happens.' He came back after the Olympic break and he's been playing great ever since."

Besides, Tavares -- who won't turn 20 until September -- had to handle elements none of the other fabulous freshmen who entered the league this season had: The expectations of a top-pick pegged to be a franchise player.

"Playing in Canada and the attention I got, especially around world junior time, it's something you get used to," Tavares said. "You kinda know what to expect. It's there every day, but you learn it's part of the routine, part of the criteria, and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else."

Selling hope the Islanders will eventually be a Stanley Cup champion is tough. But imagine being so young and a face of the franchise north of the border.

"At the beginning of the year, as soon as the game was done, there was hordes of media around him. Now, it's diminished a bit," Roloson said. "In a Canadian market, there's no time away. At least here, he can live a life away from the rink, go shopping, do the things the average person can get away with."

The real pressure on Tavares is to become a more complete player, not just a scorer.

With his size and skill, Tavares didn't have to play much defence because he always had the puck. The strides he's taken this season to become a better overall player is what impresses head coach Scott Gordon.

"His play away from the puck, that's improved in the second half," Gordon said.

"The points dried up for him a bit up until last week, he had a great week, but it's good to see his compete level improve."

And the seeds are planted for bigger things next year.

Roloson said "He's not a cocky kid. He wants to learn and wants to get better day in day out.

"Give him credit for being a marquee guy, No.-1 guy, who wants to get better. He doesn't know it all, wants to learn and listens to the veteran guys.

"He knows what he's got to do to get better, to be a marquee player in the game.

"And he's not far from being a marquee player, that's for sure."

E-mail randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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