Tavares a Leader Both On and Off the Ice for Barzal

His mere presence makes even the steeliest of competitors uncomfortable. But when it comes to his teammates, John Tavares has quite the opposite effect.

His mere presence makes even the steeliest of competitors uncomfortable. But when it comes to his teammates, John Tavares has quite the opposite effect.

For over 600 games, the man who wears the ‘C’ on his New York Islanders sweater has tormented his rivals with a multi-faceted offensive arsenal.

Great shot. Great passer. Outstanding hand-eye coordination. Brilliant hockey sense. The scouting report on the 27-year-old centre speaks volumes about his big-time talent.

Mathew Barzal, playing in his first full NHL season, knew all of those things. He also knew what it would mean to be around Tavares every day.

“He’s a guy I definitely try to watch,” said one of the NHL’s top rookies in 2017-18. “I’m very lucky. I get an up close and personal view of him. He’s obviously one of the best players in the league. But with him, it’s much more than that. He’s one of the hardest-working guys in the game. There’s a reason why he’s so good. His work ethic is amazing. It’s not just God-given talent, although that’s a big part of it. Day in and day out, he’s always working at his game.”

Tavares is equally committed to his role as the Islanders leader.

Whether it’s through his actions or words, Barzal marvels at the former first overall pick’s ability to rally his team during the course of a game.

But it’s not only at the rink where Tavares manages to make a good impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great captain,” said Barzal, who scored the shootout winner in a 5-4 Islanders win over Florida on December 4. “He had me over for dinner early in the season and he didn’t have to do that. I really appreciated it. He’s just a great captain. He leads by example and when he talks, you listen. He’s great. He’s the best.”

He also happens to be an ideal role model for a player like Barzal, an emerging star that’s looking to make his own mark at the game’s highest level.

A big part of Barzal’s performance on the ice – six goals and 24 points in 26 games – is tied to how he’s been made to feel off the ice.

He once again points to Tavares as a major influence on his confidence level.

“That’s a big part of it,” said the 16th overall selection of the Islanders in 2015. “Just knowing the guys have your back. The guys make you feel comfortable. They’ll joke around with you, but they always make you feel comfortable. A big part of the confidence you have on the ice is because of the guys in the room.”

A group led by one of hockey’s bona fide game-changing superstars.