Thrown into the fire without the luxury of AHL development, John Tavares learned "on the fly" in his rookie year with the New York Islanders. In his upcoming sophomore season, he has the ability to follow the path of Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos whose numbers rose dramatically after a year of NHL experience under his belt.
Tavares' 54 points were only one shy of leading rookie point-getter Matt Duchene who played alongside vastly talented teammates in Colorado. Duchene and the Avalanche were playoff bound while Tavares' paltry Islanders hovered around the bottom of the Eastern Conference most of last season.
Stamkos struggled mightily in his inaugural NHL campaign before compiling a tremendous 95 point season which included a whopping 51 goals, an impressive 24 coming on the power play.
As a fellow first overall draft pick, Tavares endured similar criticism to Stamkos but all signs point to him enjoying great success in 2010-11. His play for Canada in the 2010 World Championships was outstanding as he scored 7 goals in seven games.
You can point to the fact that Tavares isn't surrounded by immense teammates like Stamkos is in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Victor Hedman or even that around Duchene. What Tavares does have is a hugely experienced mentor to learn from in Doug Weight.
Few active players have seen as much as Weight has during his 1,220 career games and as a fellow centerman is the perfect guide for Tavares' development. Weight initially had trouble adjusting to the rigors of the NHL with the New York Rangers before flourishing into one of the most dominant play-making centers league-wide while with the Edmonton Oilers.
Tavares is looking to surpass the lofty achievements of Weight and become an elite point-getting NHL center like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Nicklas Bäckström, or most recently Stamkos. Given the quick learning curve of those previously mentioned, it wouldn't be surprising if Tavares finds his feet in his sophomore year and takes off like Stamkos has.
Like Crosby, Tavares has an unteachable knack for anticipating plays and tremendous on-ice vision. He also shares a rare maturity at a young age and eager work ethic with the Penguins' superstar. Tavares is seen by some experts as a natural leader like Mike Richards or Johnathan Toews.
Judging by this, he undoubtedly has the personality traits and right attitude to deal with the ups and downs of being a young star under the microscope.
His 72-goal season as a 16-year-old broke Wayne Gretzky's OHL record, showing that he can hit the 50-goal mark in the NHL sooner rather than later. Offensively, Tavares is the complete package as he has the hands and skating ability to go along with his passing aptitude and vision. It's just the matter of how soon he can display these trademarks in the NHL.
At 20, I'd expect Tavares to break the 30 goal mark and possibly even approach 40 if he gets off to a hot start. Matt Moulson found himself netting an unexpected 30 goals with Tavares as his linemate but unfortunately the emerging Kyle Okposo will miss 2-3 months. I can still see Tavares getting plenty of assists and a point total exceeding 75 could be realistic.
Clearly, John Tavares has what it takes to find himself one day considered as a true superstar and possibly go on to change the unfavorable reputation of the Islanders. Look for him to have a breakout season in 2010-11.