More often than not in recent years, the No. 1 pick in the draft has quickly become a savior for the franchise lucky enough to win, or at least not lose, the lottery – Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Rick Nash, Ilya Kovalchuk, for example – but for sustained success, those players can’t do it by themselves.
Crosby and Ovechkin have stellar supporting casts (backed up by other high draft picks such as Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Nicklas Backstrom) and have post-season success to show for it. Nash and Kovalchuk’s teams are still working on it.
Which brings me to John Tavares and the Islanders. Looking up and down the New York roster right now, I’m not sure what GM Garth Snow’s master plan is. Tavares is a preternatural goal-scorer, but he can’t do it himself and the forward corps on Long Island is looking pretty thin.
To give Snow his due, the re-signing of veteran Doug Weight was a great move – the 17-year NHLer and Stanley Cup winner with the Canes will serve as a perfect mentor for J.T., showing the youngster the ins and outs of the pro game and keeping his head level. On the ice, however, I struggle to find a first line.
In the latest edition of THN, our depth chart has Tavares lining up between Sean Bergenheim and Kyle Okposo. Bergenheim has 57 points in 183 NHL games and has played in four different leagues since 2005-06. Okposo is regarded very highly by Islanders brass, but is still growing his game as well.
What’s more, neither winger has the physical presence to discourage, say, Colin White or Brooks Orpik from giving Tavares a mouthful of composite stick should he venture anywhere close to the net (which means defensemen Brendan Witt and Andy Sutton will be on high alert most of the season).
As for other elite talent, the Isles are also high on center Josh Bailey, who made the leap directly to the NHL at 19 last season, but like Okposo, will need more time to become a true danger for opponents. Offensive defenseman Mark Streit represented the Isles at the All-Star Game last season and led the team in points with 56 in 74 games, but things drop off after that.
Perhaps the quiet plan is to be really bad again this year. Does New York fancy itself as Pittsburgh (slightly) North? The Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks have both proven lately that the bad-to-great road works, but the depth just isn’t there yet on Long Island.
Of course, Snow and company could get there sometime this season. After all, with the acquisitions of goaltenders Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron, the crease will be crowded once Isle-for-life Rick DiPietro is healthy (always a big if, but nonetheless…). A trade deadline deal would benefit the future, though even in that realm the Isles don’t have a lot of other sexy assets to move.
There has been talk of repatriating Miro Satan to the Island, which would at least give the team another offensive threat, albeit one that is not as potent as he once was. For Tavares’ sake, I hope Snow isn’t finished this summer. Alex Tanguay, Maxim Afinogenov and Vaclav Prospal are all still out there and the Isles have loads of salary cap space.
While New York will surely finish near the bottom once again, for the sake of giving Tavares a fighting chance in his first season, more support is needed.
If not, start ordering your Taylor Hall Islanders jersey now.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column – The Straight Edge – on Fridays, and his prospect feature – The Hot List – on Tuesdays.
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