In praise of John Tavares

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We’re really not going out on a limb here, but John Tavares is worth every bit of praise he’s received.

As if being a finalist for the Hart Trophy two seasons ago didn’t do the job, his performance last season was enough to make fans across the league take further notice of the 23-year-old Islanders phenom.

Before he suffered a season-ending injury at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Tavares had 24 goals and 66 points in 59 games. That kind of output put him at a 1.12 points per-game pace. That rate was good for fourth in the NHL behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Ryan Getzlaf and was the best mark in his five seasons in the NHL.

Consider this: Since debuting with the Islanders in 2009-10 after being taken first overall at the 2009 NHL Draft, he’s scored 24 or more goals each season. He scored 28 during the 48-game lockout shortened 2013 season and had a career-high 31 the one before that. He’s been scoring at a point per-game rate for the past three seasons. If that’s not the definition of “elite” then there’s something wrong with how things are determined.

As good as his goal scoring prowess is, his ability to make teammates better is right there with it. After Thomas Vanek was traded from the Islanders to the Montreal Canadiens, his one lament was that he wouldn’t be on a line with Tavares and Kyle Okposo anymore as Arthur Staple of Newsday shared back in March.

“I expected a lot more out of all of us,” Vanek said. “Looking back, that line with me, Okie [Kyle Okposo] and Johnny, it was the best line I’ve ever been on. But you look at seven to eight games where we should have won and that’s all the difference in the standings.”

In truth, that line was great as Vanek had 44 points in 47 games with the Isles and Okposo turned in a career-year of his own with 27 goals and 69 points. Previous to helping Vanek, it was Matt Moulson who reaped the benefits of playing on his left wing.

It’s a bit wild to think that someone Tavares’ age is the one helping pick up the careers of guys older than him, but this just shows how great he’s been. If he can avoid complications from his torn MCL, he’s poised to continue his skyward ascent as one of the league’s top players and perhaps lead the Islanders back to the postseason in 2014-15.

Related: It’s New York Islanders Day at PHT

Sabres re-sign Eichel’s buddy Rodrigues for two years

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The Buffalo Sabres might have signed Evan Rodrigues back in 2015 in part because he enjoyed so much success as a college linemate with Jack Eichel at Boston University, but the undrafted forward seems like he’s making a case that he’ll be a part of their future in his own right.

The Sabres handed Rodrigues a two-year deal that is two-way in 2017-18 and one-way in 2018-19. Whenever he’s at the NHL level, it’s worth $650K per season.

Rodrigues debuted in 2015-16, scoring a goal and an assist in two games. He managed to play in 30 regular-season contests for the Sabres last season, collecting six points.

He’s shown quite a bit of improvement at the AHL level, in particular. After collecting 30 points in 72 games for the Rochester Americans in 2015-16, he scored 30 again in 2016-17, although he only needed 48 contests to do so. Rodrigues isn’t quite Matt Moulson to Eihel’s John Tavares just yet, but it’s possible that he might at least development into a regular NHL player.

Buffalo’s work isn’t done for the summer just yet, as RFAs Zemgus Girgensons and Nathan Beaulieu still need deals.

Andrei Markov opts for KHL after saying goodbye to Canadiens

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Andrei Markov wanted to play his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens. With that option officially off the table, Markov announced that he’s headed for Russia and the KHL.

“I didn’t see myself with any other NHL team,” Markov said during a conference call wrapping up his lengthy stay with the Habs. “I didn’t see myself wearing another jersey.”

(At least not the jersey of another NHL team.)

The 38-year-old also noted that he hasn’t closed the door to a return to Montreal. That makes sense since it seems like it was largely the Canadiens’ decision to part ways with Markov, essentially replacing him with Mark Streit at a heavily discounted rate.

Beyond the comforts of home, Markov was almost certainly motivated to play in the KHL because of the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The veteran blueliner did not mention which KHL team he’ll end up playing for. There were some rumblings that Markov might sign with the Florida Panthers, but that turned out to not be true.

If it’s a one-year deal, a return to the Habs is at least feasible in 2018-19. Considering his age, it sure seems like this is the end of Markov’s lengthy run with the Canadiens, though.

After making NHL debut, Jones re-ups with Isles

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One of the Isles’ feel-good stories from last season wrote a new chapter on Thursday.

Connor Jones, the undrafted 26-year-old that made his NHL debut in April, has signed a one-year, two-way extension, the club announced.

Jones certainly earned his way to the show. He spent four years at Quinnipiac before catching on with the Oilers, spending time with both their AHL and ECHL affiliates before jumping to the Isles organization in 2015.

Though he’s not an offensive producer — just 19 points in 58 games with Bridgeport last season — Jones emerged as a good energy guy that proved an effective penalty killer.

With AHL Bridgeport, he also played alongside his twin brother, Kellen, who was in attendance as Connor made his NHL debut in April.

Connor would go on to play four games for the Isles, averaging just under 12 minutes per night.

Report: Dwight King could be KHL-bound

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Dwight King, the burly forward that won a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles, may be on his way to Russia.

Per News 1130 in Vancouver, King is set to sign in the KHL after failing to land a contract this summer. The 28-year-old finished last season in Montreal after spending the first seven years of his NHL career in Los Angeles.

For a time, King was an effective skater for L.A. He posted a career-high 15 goals and 30 points during the ’13-14 campaign, and followed that up with a 13-goal, 26-point effort the year following. He also had a nice showing during the Kings’ 2014 Cup run, finishing with 11 points in 26 games.

King’s biggest issue is his skating ability. At 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, he was never the fleetest of foot, but had been working on his speed this offseason.

More, from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman:

King is still looking for work after finishing the season in Montreal. There are a few Western Conference teams poking around.

“I’m just looking for an opportunity at this point. I’m going to be on the ice more this year, doing a little more skills and skating. Any bit of improvement I can find.”

King is going to try a couple new teachers, then decide which route to take. One also works with former teammate (and new Golden Knight) Brayden McNabb. King is quite the physical specimen, but will take a new approach. He regularly played at 230–231 pounds, but is going to go to 225–226. And he believes the Western Conference is better for him.

News 1130 reported that Vancouver had shown “mild interest” in King, who just wrapped a three-year $5.85 million deal with a $1.95M cap hit.

King appeared in 17 games for the Habs after being picked up at the deadline last season, scoring once. He went pointless in six playoff games.