There have been 15 captains in New York Islanders' history. When the team drafted John Tavares first overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, it was always expected he would be one of them.
It happened nine years ago, on September 9, 2013, a few weeks before the start of the 2013-14 season. The Islanders had just made the playoffs for the first time in six years, losing a highly competitive six-game series with the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
Tavares has steadily gotten better each year in the league, and during the 2013 shortened 48-game season, he reached superstar level, scoring 28 goals and adding 19 assists, finishing third in voting for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the league's most valuable player. Putting the 'C' on his sweater as the franchise's 14th captain was the next step after the negotiating rights of their previous captain, Mark Streit, was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.
"You understand the responsibility, but at the same time, I don't think too much will change. I'm not going to try and force anything. It's a great group, and being here with the guys, it just feels like we're back to normal. So many familiar faces … a few new guys, but guys that are going to fit in really well. The group's really growing together nicely, so I don't think the feel or the atmosphere of our guys, or the naming of me captain, is going to change a whole lot."- John Tavares
Tavares being named captain was a unique event in franchise history. It was the fulfillment of what had always been envisioned. Tavares had been the team's statistical leader for years and was now taking the next, always anticipated step. When comparing him to the prior 13, only Denis Potvin, another first overall pick, had a similar trajectory,
"From the day we drafted John we knew he had a high skill set and that he could dominate on the icem stated General Manager Garth Snow. "It's been fun to see him take on a leadership role and I think people from the outside now recognize what a high-character person he is and what a leader he is. John's in a good spot with the 'C' because he has a lot of character people around him in that locker room.
A look back at the 15 Islanders captains in team history and you'll find some obvious and expected choices, such as veteran Ed Westfall serving as the team's first when he was selected in the 1972 expansion draft or Potvin taking over for Clark Gilles ahead of the dynasty. Others were ill-fated, such as a much-too-young Bryan McCabe being named captain by Mike Milbury followed by the player he was traded for, his replacement, Trevor Linden.
Then there were those that were acquired for the purpose of becoming captain. The aforementioned Linden falls into that category, as does Michael Peca. Then there are the grizzled veterans Bill Guerin and Doug Weight, that assumed to role of shepherding a young roster that needed to learn how to become professionals. Tavares was added to the list of home-grown Islanders, which included Gillies, Potvin, Brent Sutter, and Patrick Flatley. He was the first Islanders draft pick to be named captain since McCabe in 1997.
Tavares was a captain for five seasons, and if he re-signed with the Islanders after the 2017-18 season, that number would have grown to 10, 11, or even 12. He was everything a face-of-the-franchise was supposed to be until he wasn't anymore. In retrospect, it's easy to compare him to the current captain Anders Lee in terms of style and likability, but for those five years, he lived up to what was long-expected of him, starting on that September afternoon in 2013.