OTTAWA – John Tavares can hardly believe how fast time flies, neither can New York Islanders teammate Doug Weight.
Making his Canadian NHL debut Thursday in Ottawa, Tavares, the highly-touted Islanders’ rookie, remarked how it feels like just yesterday that he was helping Canada win the gold medal at the world junior hockey championship at Scotiabank Place.
Veteran NHLer Weight, meanwhile, was still wrapping his head around just how just young the player causing a lot of buzz for the Islanders this year really is.
“I was told the other day that I scored my first goal 18 years to the day of our first game,” Weight said following the Islanders’ pre-game skate.
“And I thought that was pretty cool – until (they) said John was six months old,” he continued, before breaking into a laugh. “Then I had to go home and think about it for a couple of days.”
Tavares was actually a little older, although not much, but the Islanders’ captain makes his point.
After sitting out the Isles’ season-opening shootout loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday with a groin injury, Weight, 38, returned to the lineup to begin his 18th NHL campaign. Thursday’s game with the 1,185th of his career.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tavares, playing just his second career contest since being selected first overall by New York in June’s NHL draft.
Since then, it’s all been a bit of a blur for the recently-turned-19-year-old from Oakville, Ont.
The whirlwind stopped in the nation’s capital long enough for him to play his first game on home soil in the building that he’s enjoyed one of the highlights of his hockey career so far.
“It’s nice to be back in Canada, for sure,” Tavares said, addressing a large scrum of reporters.
It would have been better had the Islanders managed to pick up a win against the Senators. Instead they settled for a point when Mike Fisher scored in overtime to give Ottawa a 3-2 victory. Tavares picked up an assist on New York’s second goal.
Although it’s been little more than nine months since he was named the tournament’s most valuable player in leading Canada to gold at the world juniors, “It seemed like yesterday, really,” Tavares said. “It’s amazing how much has gone by and how much has changed since then.”
Tavares’s return to his home province is particularly big news because he’s been expected to be hockey’s next big thing since the Ontario Hockey League granted him exceptional status at age 14 to play major junior.
If his first two games are indication, Tavares won’t have much trouble living up to the top billing that will following him throughout the season. In addition to Thursday’s assist, he scored his first goal in the Isles’ opener, a 4-3 shootout loss.
“I think managing expectations, he’s had plenty of practice with that so I don’t think there’s any hockey player that’s going to come out of junior better prepared,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “(But) the thing that we’ve tried to impress upon him is to make sure that he understands that he’s not the saviour of our franchise. Eventually, he’s going to be a guy that could be that guy, but we don’t want him to feel that way now.”
And that’s where Weight, the long-time Edmonton Oiler, comes in. The fellow centre roomed with Tavares at training camp before putting him up at his home. He’s taken the rookie under his wing, with Tavares joking that everyone is seems “likes to call him my second father.”
“I’ve gotten to know John really well,” Weight said. “He’s a great kid, wants to be a great player, wants to be a great teammate. I’ve been thoroughly impressed on and off the ice. I’m excited for him and he showed that he was growing with each pre-season game and the first game he showed what he can do.”
Tavares has started the season playing on a line with 21-year-old right-winger Kyle Okposo and 25-year-old Matt Moulson, Tavares’s childhood friend, and the trio appears to have found good chemistry.
Weight said he’s been particularly impressed with the low-key Tavares’s desire to blend in to the Islanders despite the attention that’s being paid to him.
Tavares said it’s not hard to stay focused as he tries to find his feet in the NHL.
“You don’t want to get complacent or too comfortable,” he said. “You want to make sure you’re on your toes everyday, ready to go and get to work and do what you have to do to perform and compete at this level every day. It’s definitely a challenge and something I’ve wanted for a long time so I’m pretty focused on doing that.
“At times you’ve got to pinch yourself and think, ‘Wow, this is pretty awesome.’ But I’m able to separate that pretty well.”