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Player profile: Getting to know John Tavares

Get to know Toronto’s new centre by watching all the highlights that you could ever ask for

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at New York Islanders
Could John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Patrick Marleau form a line together next season?
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the Leafs have signed John Tavares, it’s time to take a closer look at what he can do on the ice. He owns the ninth highest point total since he entered the league, so while he’s certainly not an under-the-radar type of player at this stage, we might as well see what exactly we can look forward to.

First off, if one thing is clear, Tavares’ linemates tend to enjoy playing with him:

Josh Bailey posted 43 and 53 assist seasons during his last two years with Tavares. In fact, at least one of Tavares’ wingers have scored at a 40+ assist rate per 82 games since P.A. Parenteau did it in 2011-2012. Matt Moulson also scored 30+ goals in each of his three 82-game seasons with Tavares, while Anders Lee scored 30+ on both occasions.

Mitch Marner posted 47 assists last season as a 20-year old, and if Bailey can post 53 assists next to Tavares, there’s no reason Marner can’t either. In addition, Tavares had just as many assists as Marner last season, so the left-winger on this line can probably expect their fair share of tap-in goals.

A Quick Scouting Report on Tavares

Tavares is a powerful centre with quick hands and an incredible scoring touch. He’s been known as a major goal scorer his entire life, and famously scored 72 goals in just 67 games during his second year in the OHL. While James van Riemsdyk will be a notable loss for the Maple Leafs, Tavares’ powerful style and scoring touch should help to offset the loss of one of the league’s best powerplay goal scorers.

The knock on Tavares has always been his skating, and while he’s made major improvements over the years, he’s still not overly quick, at least compared to other elite forwards. He’s less of a zone-entry specialist than Connor McDavid or Mathew Barzal, but he protects the puck well, and works tirelessly to put himself into high-danger scoring areas.

He always played against top competition when he was with the Islanders, often without a high-end two-way winger. Players like Vanek, Moulson, Strome, and Bailey are typically known more for their offensive skillset, and the Islanders did not ever have a Norris candidate to help Tavares shutdown top players in his own end.

Ultimately, the biggest winner of this offseason is probably Marner. He has not played major minutes with a prototypical goal-scoring centre since his days in the OHL, as Tyler Bozak is more of a playmaker, while Kadri’s thirty goal seasons probably aren’t sustainable in the long-run. Ultimately, if Tavares can get to the dirty areas, Marner will find him. Marner played with a left-shooting, goal-scoring centre in the OHL, and that went quite well:

A Glimpse of Tavares in Action

Tavares is known for his ability to weave through defenders in tight spaces, and he sees the ice extremely well. He shows why he posted a 47-assist season last year in the GIF below, by dancing around one of the best defensive forwards in the game in Sean Couturier:

He shows off his power-style in this next clip, backing down Toby Enstrom, and driving into the slot by controlling the puck on his backhand:

Tavares is a clear standout as a puck carrier, and he regularly makes defenders miss with a quick move to his forehand. He weaves around Morgan Rielly here, then protects the puck as he drives into the slot:

If one thing is clear, Tavares is a tough player to knock off the puck. He gets creative here to shield off Jay Bouwmeester, then spins around to create space for himself:

Another top-pairing defenceman is the victim of Tavares here, as he puts the puck through John Klingberg’s legs and drives to the edge of the crease:

Tavares pulls off his best Matthews-impression in the GIF below, pulling the puck back to change the shooting angle, then ripping a wrist shot into the top corner:

He’s not quite as good as Marner, Matthews, or Nylander at generating takeaways, but he’s still a fairly impressive puck thief in his own right, and he shows off his ability to excel in tight spaces here:

This is an encouraging clip for those who miss James van Riemsdyk, as he shows that can also be a force to be reckoned with around the crease:

I have seen him pull-off this move on a few occasions, and he wastes little time taking advantage thanks to a quick backhand:

His wrist shot is on full display in the GIF below, as he finds the top left corner of the net after dancing his way into the slot:

Here is his patented move once again, as he drives into the slot on his backhand, then quickly eludes the opposing goalie on his forehand:

Shootout

Tavares loves to raise the puck on his backhand, and his quick hands allow him to get opposing goaltenders sliding the wrong way:

He’s pulled off the move in the above GIF more than once, as he backs the goalie up once again, before finding the top of the net with his backhand:

Tavares pulls off Peter Forsberg’s shootout move below, which fools Robin Lehner completely:

Final Thoughts

Tavares is a well-rounded centre who should nicely complement Toronto’s abundance of speedy scoring wingers. His strength allows him to succeed in the dirty areas, and with a career shooting percentage of 12.9%, he can certainly make the most of his chances. He is a much better playmaker than James van Riemsdyk, but can also help to fill the major void left on Toronto’s powerplay.

While he’s not in the same conversation as Patrice Bergeron or Sean Couturier defensively, he’s used to matching up against the other team’s best players, and without all-star two-way players by his side. If he plays with two reasonably good wingers, you can feel confident that he can outscore his opponent against almost every line in the NHL. Finally, he can also contribute on the penalty kill, and while the Leafs may opt against this, it provides the team with flexibility if they need a key face-off win, or if they are down a goal late in the game.

Tavares is one of the best players in hockey, and at $11 million per season, signing him was a no-brainer. There are only a few defencemen in all of hockey who are as valuable as Tavares, and they are next to impossible to acquire. The trio of Tavares, Matthews, and Kadri is next to impossible to matchup against, and the roster is full of talented young wingers. Enjoy the show, Leafs fans.

Oh, and I hope Toronto’s goal-light operator asked for a raise.