- Neil Greenberg, NHL
It is fair to say New York Islanders center John Tavares is emerging as one of the best players in the NHL. Now in his fourth season, the former first-round pick in the 2009 entry draft has become a dominant player who has played himself into the discussion for inclusion on Team Canada for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Tavares has always put points on the board. He broke Wayne Gretzky's Ontario Hockey League record for most goals by a 16-year-old and has continued to light the lamp at the NHL level, where he currently ranks seventh in scoring with 27 points in 23 games. He also anchors a line with Brad Boyes and Matt Moulson that ranks second in terms of even-strength points scored as a trio with 41.
But where Tavares has really advanced his game is in his ability to tilt the ice in the Islanders' favor. When he broke into the league, the Islanders took 44.6 percent of the total number of unblocked even-strength shots with the score tied (with Tavares on the ice). Exclusively using tie-score events allows us to eliminate score effects; when a team is leading, it tends to go into a defensive shell while a trailing team launches whatever it can at the net to catch up. This season, that number has ballooned to nearly 56 percent, which ranks seventh among forwards with at least 100 minutes in those situations. That is one heck of an All-Star-worthy year. But alas, due to the lockout, there is no 2013 All-Star Game.
That's no reason to deprive worthy players of recognition, though. To that end, we put together mock starting squads for the Eastern and Western conferences based on their first-half play and statistics.
With Tavares a solid anchor for the pivot, here are the rest of the Eastern Conference All-Stars as well as those for the West.
Through 21 games this season, Vanek has 12 goals and 28 points, which projects to be a 47-goal, 109-point campaign over a full 82-game season. His seven primary assists at even strength are tied for second in the league, but his real value is in driving play: Buffalo generates more than 31 even-strength shots per 60 minutes with him on the ice versus only 25 when he is on the bench.