Leading up to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there was an ongoing debate as to whether the New York Islanders should take John Tavares or Matt Duchene at No. 1 overall. Obviously, the Islanders went with Tavares, and Colorado selected Duchene third. Two and a half years later, did the Isles make the right choice? Alexander and I discuss…
By Alexander Monaghan
The New York Islanders used their first overall pick in 2009 to select John Tavares of the London Knights. Back then they knew what they would get – a player with great hand-eye coordination and a nose for the net. At that point, he was the best player in the Ontario Hockey League and a pick that was relatively easy to make.
Two years later, the Isles can only be pleased with their selection. His points increased in each of his two seasons as he looks to finally break the 30-goal plateau this year. By comparison, his counterpart Matt Duchene was leading the competition by a point heading into the season, but has since fell behind due to Tavares having a more productive season.
All season, and throughout his career for that matter, Tavares has been the top forward on Long Island. He's made Matt Moulson a 30-goal scorer twice now and has certainly put his hand in his teammate's current goal streak of eight tallies over six games. In fact, he allowed the Isles to surround him with career minor leaguers Moulson and PA Parenteau who combine to earn roughly $4.38 million – a bargain for a NHL top line.
Furthermore, the Isles have struggled to score goals in each of Tavares' three seasons with the team. They currently are last in the League in goals forced and finished 15th and 20th in the League over the past two seasons. It's hard to argue that the team would do much better without his 53 goals over that span. You can argue that Duchene also scored 53 goals over that span as well but the speedy, dynamic pivot had the benefit of actual linemates like Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Peter Mueller and Tomas Fleischmann over the years – a luxury Tavares simply has not had.
In addition, Tavares figures to take over the captaincy as he is signed through the 2018 season. Make no mistake, this team is his as he's the focus of their offense and was even considered for the C before his entry-level contract expired. In Colorado, Duchene could be leapfrogged by former Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog or even the aforementioned Stastny. He is not the vocal point of the offense and has been criticized for his inability to carry the offense or make an impact with lesser linemates.
Tavares represents the fan's dreams on the Island. When you hear them speak about the future you hear the Mississauga, Ontario native's name come first, followed by the new hope of Nino Niederreiter and Ryan Strome. Not only does he represent the future, he represents the present and should help this team get back to respectability through at least 2018.
While Duchene may put up more highlight reel goals and become a flashier player throughout his career, the Isles found a player who can consistently light the lamp and make the team around him that much better. For a rebuilding team without a core of solid veterans, that trait is a requirement and furthermore proof that they made the right decision in selecting him on that fateful June evening.
By Ryan Porth
This debate is far from over; neither Tavares nor Duchene have reached their max potential. Yet, Tavares and Duchene will forever be linked together. If you look at these two young stars pound for pound, the Islanders should have gone with Duchene.
As Alexander profiled, Tavares has obviously been a great player for the Islanders in his two-plus years, doing so without a supporting cast that will set the world on fire. And he’s been an admirable face of the franchise in a less-than-ideal situation.
With that said, Duchene hasn’t exactly been playing with overly talented linemates. As Paul Stastny has manned the top line (when healthy), Duchene has had to play with the likes of David Jones, T.J. Galiardi and Brandon Yip – all talented role players, but unproven and inconsistent.
Last season, with a bad Avalanche club, Duchene led the team with 27 goals and 67 points. The year prior as a rookie, he played a big role in the Avs’ unlikely playoff berth. With 20 points in 30 games thus far here in 2011-12, the 20-year-old has underperformed, courtesy of a slow start.
Like Tavares, Duchene’s ceiling is extremely high. But you can make the argument that Duchene is a more explosive, exciting, dynamic offensively player (by a slim margin) than Tavares. Duchene’s speed and hands are gifts that very few players have. Not that Duchene would have the Islanders at playoff-contending status, but in my opinion, he is as good (or an even better) fit on Long Island than Tavares.
It’s hard to pick between Tavares and Duchene at this point in their career. Both players have had ups and downs. But if I had to pick one at this time, and had to start a franchise with one or other, I’d go with Duchene because I believe he’ll be the better player when it’s all said and done.
Photos credit: Getty Images