New York Islanders Season Preview: Can Tavares Guide them out of the Eastern Conference Basement?

John TavaresFor the past five seasons, the New York Islanders have struggled to make an impact in the Eastern Conference. In each of those seasons, the team has not only failed to make the playoffs, but has actually failed to finish higher than 13th in the conference. Their last playoff appearance was in 2006-07, where they squeezed their way in as an eight seed. All of these poor seasons have resulted in one positive for the Islanders: quality draft picks. With six top 10 picks since 2006, including their only number one selection John Tavares, and eight first round choices, is this the year the Islanders finally start to show some promise?

It can be almostĀ guaranteedĀ that the success of the Islanders franchise this season lies on the shoulders of John Tavares. Pressure? Perhaps. But Tavares has known pressure since he was 15 years old and averaging more than a point per game in the OHL. He was picked by many to be the face of an NHL franchise before he had even been drafted. Much like Sidney Crosby, the expectations have been high since Tavares began his NHL career.

In only three full NHL seasons, we’ve seen Tavares grow and become the face of his Islanders franchise, much like what was predicted of him. Last season, the Islanders sensation managed 31 goals and 50 assists for 81 points in 82 games played. All numbers were career bests for Tavares, and he has set career bests with each season that passes by. As we prepare for yet another season, you can bet Tavares will be ready to lead his team once again and better himself while improving his squad at the same time.

But we all know Tavares can’t do it alone, the Islanders need to surround him with some level of talent to climb out of the basement in the East. That may very well be happening before our eyes, however, as we see some of the Islanders draft picks mature.

Kyle Okposo, for example, has seen his share of setbacks. His career began in 2007-08, but he’s seen injury troubles hold him back. Last season saw him play 79 games and tally 24 goals, a career best. Josh Bailey, another high draft pick, has seen his numbers hold pretty steady throughout his four years in the NHL. He shows a lot of promise though, including a six game point streak at the end of last season where he potted three goals and added another nine helpers.

Others, such as Michael Grabner, went through drastic set backs last season. In a year where many thought he would score in bunches, the Austian native only picked up 20 goals in 78 games. A decent effort, sure, but the Islanders will need much more from him to become a threat.

The addition of Ryan Strome to the roster will help to offset any shortcomings this season though. In 65 games for the OHL’s Niagara Ice Dogs last season, Strome was an unstoppable asset to the team. He finished the season with 33 goals and 73 assists, totaling 106 points. The Islanders and their fans have to be ecstatic about this young talent joining the squad.

At the end of the day though, the offense will be lead by Tavares. He’s no veteran by any means, but he will be counted on to show his teammates by example how to be a top-tier player. He will help with the growth of all of the aforementioned offensive talent, and will be counted on to deliver another breakout season of his own. It’s a lot to ask out of a man who will turn only twenty-two later this month, but a lot rests on Tavares shoulders if the Islanders are to make a leap next season.

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