When Islanders G.M. Garth Snow took John Tavares (right) with the first pick of the June draft in Montreal, the video board in the Bell Centre aired a feed from Nassau Coliseum in New York, where 10,000 fans had gathered to hail the first coming of John. Even before he has scored an NHL goal, the Islanders' faithful expect the 19-year-old forward to resurrect the moribund franchise—an expectation the team wants to downplay. "John is just another piece of the puzzle," Snow says.
Right. The rookie has been in the limelight since earning "exceptional player" status in the OHL and entering the junior league a year early at 14. Pressure hasn't fazed Tavares; he was named Rookie of the Year in 2006 and set a record with 72 goals in '07. Last January he was named MVP of the World Junior Championships in his native Canada with 15 points in six games. In New York, though, the Islanders' plan to ease in Tavares, limiting his ice time and surrounding him with veteran forwards such as 38-year-old Doug Weight. The team has also resisted the temptation to overpromote the league's most anticipated rookie. Unlike Lightning center Steven Stamkos, last year's top pick, who labored under marketing hype in Tampa, Tavares's face won't peer down from highway billboards—at least until he has scored a few NHL goals.