Although John Tavares can sympathize with the pressure and expectations foisted on phenom Connor McDavid, their teams are in far different positions.
Tavares is trying to help the New York Islanders get back into the playoff picture Sunday against the highly touted rookie and the last-place Edmonton Oilers.
Expectations were high when Tavares was selected first overall at age 18 in 2009. He played all 82 games that season and led New York with 54 points, showing the promise fans have hoped would turn the struggling franchise into a Stanley Cup champion.
Tavares has turned the Islanders into a playoff contender, and that burden of expectations has him relating to McDavid, last year's top pick who turned 19 last month and is expected to turn around the moribund Oilers as the NHL's next transcendent star.
“Some of it is a little overwhelming,” Tavares told the team's official website. “You're going through it for the first time and you're barely an adult. You're trying to mature and make sure you're handling yourself the right way. I had great people around me that really helped me through that.”
Tavares, the team's captain, has done his part to live up to those expectations. He's tied with Kyle Okposo for the team lead with 37 points and has eight in eight games after scoring a goal on an assist by Okposo in Saturday's 5-1 loss at Detroit.
The Islanders (26-18-6) are one point back of New Jersey for the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
McDavid and the Oilers (21-27-5) trail the same spot in the West by 11 points. The young center had 12 points in his first 13 games before a broken clavicle sidelined him for the next 37. He got five points in his first two games back before failing to get on the score sheet during a 5-1 loss at Montreal on Saturday.
Coach Todd McLellan wasn't happy with Edmonton's overall play, which included being outshot 36-24 overall and 13-4 in the third period.
“That's as bad as we've been in a long time,” McLellan said. “We didn't skate well, we didn't pass, our structure was poor … We got what we deserved.”
It's unknown if McLellan thinks Cam Talbot deserves to be back in net after allowing four goals on 23 shots and getting pulled after the second period Saturday. Backup Anders Nilsson stopped 12 of 13 shots the rest of the way.
Nilsson was a third-round pick by the Islanders in '09, and he went 9-9-2 with a 3.05 goals-against average in 23 games over two seasons before moving on to the Oilers as a free agent last summer.
Talbot, however, is 3-1-0 with a 2.78 GAA in five career meetings with New York.
The Islanders are in a similar situation after Jaroslav Halak was lifted midway through the second period Saturday after surrendering four goals on 13 shots. He's lost three straight starts with a 4.04 GAA but is 8-2-1 with a 1.98 mark and three shutouts in 12 games against the Oilers. He had 34 stops in a 3-2 overtime home win Feb. 10.
Rookie Jean-Francois Berube made six saves after replacing Halak against the Red Wings. He split his first two career starts with a 3.50 GAA.
Still, much of the focus will be on Tavares and McDavid. Tavares has seven points in six games against Edmonton, while McDavid is getting his first taste of the Big Apple.
“Special players just have a demeanor around them,” Tavares said. “He's very humble, doesn't take anything for granted and obviously has shown some great promise about why he's going to be a great player.”