When IslandersG.M. Garth Snow took John Tavares (right) with the first pick of the June draftin Montreal, the video board in the Bell Centre aired a feed from NassauColiseum in New York, where 10,000 fans had gathered to hail the first comingof John. Even before he has scored an NHL goal, the Islanders' faithful expectthe 19-year-old forward to resurrect the moribund franchise—an expectation theteam wants to downplay. "John is just another piece of the puzzle,"Snow says.
Right. The rookiehas been in the limelight since earning "exceptional player" status inthe OHL and entering the junior league a year early at 14. Pressure hasn'tfazed Tavares; he was named Rookie of the Year in 2006 and set a record with 72goals in '07. Last January he was named MVP of the World Junior Championshipsin his native Canada with 15 points in six games. In New York, though, theIslanders' plan to ease in Tavares, limiting his ice time and surrounding himwith veteran forwards such as 38-year-old Doug Weight. The team has alsoresisted the temptation to overpromote the league's most anticipated rookie.Unlike Lightning center Steven Stamkos, last year's top pick, who labored undermarketing hype in Tampa, Tavares's face won't peer down from highwaybillboards—at least until he has scored a few NHL goals.
BRUCE BENNETT/GETTY IMAGES (TAVARES)