John Tavares Leads Young Group Looking to Turn Islanders Around

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John Tavares Leads Young Group Looking to Turn Islanders Around The glory days are a fading memory on Long Island, where the crumbling Nassau Coliseum remains about the only tangible link to the Islanders? four straight Stanley Cups in 1980-83.

But just as the club has struggled to get a new arena built, they have found it equally difficult to rebuild the product on the ice. New York has missed the playoffs the last three years and has not won a playoff series since 1993. Things are slowly turning around though, with hope coming in the form of recent first-round picks John Tavares, Calvin De Haan, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo and this year?s fifth overall selection Nino Niederreiter.

2009-10 Record: 34-37-11, 79 points (5th Atlantic Division; 13th Eastern Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)

Bruins record vs. Islanders: Boston leads the all-time series 69-46-21-4, and went 2-1-1 last year. The Bruins rallied with three goals in the final 8:01 and won 4-3 in a shootout in Boston on Oct. 10, but lost 4-1 on Nov. 16 and 3-2 in overtime on Dec. 12 at New York before taking the final meeting 3-2 in Boston on March 6.

When to watch:
The Bruins host the Islanders on Thursday, Dec. 9 and Wednesday, April 6, and head to Long Island on Thursday, Feb. 17 and Friday, March 11.

Familiar faces:
Both general manager Garth Snow (Wrentham, Mass.) and head coach Scott Gordon (Easton, Mass.) are Bay State natives, and Gordon also coached Providence for seven seasons, including four-plus as head coach. Andy Hilbert and Milan Jurcina each came up through the Bruins system, while tough guy Trevor Gillies played briefly for Providence. Goalie Rick DiPietro hails from Winthrop, Mass. and played at Boston University before being taken first overall in 2000, while fellow netminder Dwayne Roloson played at UMass-Lowell.

Key additions: D James Wisniewski (trade with Anaheim); F Zenon Konopka (free agent); D Milan Jurcina (free agent); F Andy Hilbert (free agent); D Mark Eaton (free agent); F P.A. Parenteau (free agent); F Jeremy Yablonski (free agent); F Rob Hisey (free agent); F Nino Niederreiter (draft)

Key losses: G Martin Biron (signed with N.Y. Rangers); D Freddy Meyer (signed with Atlanta); F Sean Bergenheim (signed with Tampa Bay); F Tim Jackman (signed with Calgary); F Jeff Tambellini (signed with Vancouver); F Jeremy Reich (signed with Boston); F Greg Mauldin (signed with Colorado); F Joel Rechlicz (signed with Hershey, AHL); D Brendan Witt (bought out); F Doug Weight (free agent); F Richard Park (free agent)

Burning question: Can Tavares take a huge leap forward this season?

The Islanders took John Tavares with the first overall pick in 2009, and the slick center paid immediate dividends as he led the Isles with 24-30-54 totals last season. But will his sophomore season see an even greater leap forward? Tavares has the talent to make a leap like 2008 first overall pick Steven Stamkos, who went from 23-23-46 totals as a rookie to 51-44-95 last year. Tavares doesn?t have the supporting cast that Stamkos has in Tampa, but he will certainly get the ice-time to improve on his numbers. Even a more gradual progression like what 2007 No. 1 pick Patrick Kane has undergone in Chicago (72 and 70 points in his first two years, followed by a 30-58-88 breakout last year) would be welcome on Long Island.

2010-11 outlook: Tavares isn?t the only building block in place for the Islanders, who will also count on the continued development of young forwards Kyle Okposo (19-33-52) and Josh Bailey (16-19-35) and hope that Matt Moulson?s unlikely breakout last year (30-18-48) wasn?t a fluke. Frans Nielsen (12-26-38) and Blake Comeau (17-18-35) lend support, while the addition of James Wisniewski (3-27-30 with Anaheim) will help a defense anchored by Mark Streit (11-38-49). The youngsters shouldn?t be pushed around this year with Gillies expected to be up full-time and Zenon Konopka (NHL-leading 33 fighting majors last year) signed as a free agent. The Islanders continue to hope that DiPietro, who was signed to a 15-year contract in 2006, can finally get healthy after playing just 13 games the last two years, but have Dwayne Roloson in place as a backup plan.

Did you know? Islanders enforcer Trevor Gillies could be the perfect New England tour guide. In addition to his five-game stint in Providence in 2001-02, he?s also played for AHL franchises in Lowell, Worcester, Springfield, Portland, Hartford and Bridgeport in his 11-year career. The only New England club in the AHL he?s yet to play for is Manchester, though with him finally getting a shot at regular NHL duty this season he?d be happy to leave that destination off his list.

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