Ever-improving Tavares 'one of the best in the world'
by Christian Arnold/Correspondent
UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It’s hard to deny anymore that John Tavares is an elite player in the NHL. His dominating three-goal performance Saturday night against New Jersey was just the latest example of why the 22-year-old has earned the right to be mentioned in the same breath as the game’s very best.
Despite not scoring his first goal of the year until four games into the season, Tavares has elevated his game to new heights. He currently is tied with Thomas Vanek and James Neal for most goals in the NHL with 11 and he leads his team in that category as well.
But what’s caught coach Jack Capuano’s eye has been Tavares’s play away from the puck.
“We can sit here and talk about the goals tonight,” Capuano said after the game. “but for me it’s… his defensive zone play and defensive zone coverage, which led to that goal.”
It is that play without the puck that has led to Tavares garnering offensive chances, something that he has not been short of this season. Over the last 10 games, he has scored 10 goals and is currently on a five game goal-scoring streak.
On any given night it would be hard to miss Tavares on the ice. His nose for the puck, strong skating ability and intelligent play-making ability have continually made him a force to be reckoned with.
But one thing that keeps Tavares going is his drive to be the best. Complacency is not an option for him.
“I’m just trying to get better,” Tavares said. “It’s obviously my fourth year now, so I know what to expect. how to handle a lot of things, the ups and downs, try to keep on working on a lot of parts of my game, and (it’s) nice to see it starting all to come together. I just always try not to stay complacent and not be satisfied. I know I always want to push to be better.”
His work ethic has been one that that both Capuano and Tavares’ linemate, Matt Moulson, have noticed.
“He works extremely hard,” Moulson said about Tavares. “He’s obviously very gifted with his skill set, but he’s an extremely hard worker and the ultimate professional.”
“He comes to the rink every day and gets better,” Capuano added. “He’s prepared, he’s focused, he’s committed, he’s willing to do all little things and the intangibles to be one of the best players in the league and in the world. And that’s where he’s at right now.”
So does Capuano believe Tavares is an elite player?
“Yeah I think so,” he said when asked. “To me an elite player is someone you watch night in and night out and your coaches prepare for a game and you pre-scout you’re looking at 91... But I would say that’s safe to say.”
But as obvious as Tavares’ position among the cream of the crop in the National Hockey League may seem, sometimes his fellow Isles find themselves having to vouch for their star center. There isn't a single doubt in any of their minds.
“It seems like I keep getting asked that question, but I always thought he was an elite player since he’s come into the league,” Moulson said. “He’s starting to figure it out more and more as he matures, naturally, so I think he’s one of the best in the world.”