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Rising star Tavares still chasing team titles with Islanders

Individual brilliance has brought accolades but not team-wide success

John Tavares, centre, has enjoyed plenty of individual accolades during his five seasons with the New York Islanders but has yet to experience post-season success with his team. Al Bello / AFP
John Tavares, centre, has enjoyed plenty of individual accolades during his five seasons with the New York Islanders but has yet to experience post-season success with his team. Al Bello / AFP

John Tavares has been on a path to greatness from the moment he was the first player chosen in the 2009 NHL entry draft.

That would be individual greatness. A successful team experience remains on the wish list.

The 23-year-old centre skates for the New York Islanders, a franchise that won four successive Stanley Cups, from 1980 through 1983, but in decades since they have wandered in a maze of mediocrity.

It is a little early to feel sorry for Tavares. With any luck, he has a long career in front of him, and the Isles have time to improve. A long list of superstars have played longer and struggled to reach the play-offs, learning the hard way that Stanley Cup chances can be fleeting.

Even Alex Ovechkin, the three-time Hart Trophy (most valuable player) winner and a nine-year veteran, has not made it past the second round of the play-offs.

Still, in a league where 16 of 30 teams make the play-offs each year, the Isles’ trip last spring was the first for Tavares, now in his fifth season. This term, the team has reverted to dismal form and sits in the lower portion of the Eastern Conference standings, outside the play-off picture.

The goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, whose fine play elevated the team last year, has lost his starting job. A trade last month with Buffalo that brought the high-scoring winger Thomas Vanek to play alongside Tavares has not helped yet, partly because an injury has sidelined Vanek for the past four games.

“We’ve talked about moving on and getting better from what we’ve been able to do,” Tavares recently told the Wall Street Journal. “But we’re inconsistent. We play well for great stretches, then we seem to get away from it.”

That pretty much describes every foundering team, and especially the Isles. They last won a play-off series in 1993.

Nevertheless, Tavares is a solid centrepiece for his club. He finished third behind the league’s two featured stars, Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, in Hart Trophy voting last spring.

Tavares produced 47 points in the shortened 48-game season, including 28 goals. He is back among the league leaders this year, with 25 points in 21 games.

The strapping Canadian is known as a deft passer and an opportunistic goalscorer. He has improved his defence each year. He is also the team’s acknowledged leader, now wearing the captain’s sweater.

“To be a captain, you have to get the respect from your teammates, the organisation and the community,” said coach Jack Capuano, adding that Tavares “is a model example of that”.

The individual accolades keep coming. He waits for a competent team around him.

sports@thenational.ae