Once upon a time the New York Islanders selected a highly touted player with the first overall selection in the draft, only to have that player be injured in an exhibition game alongside the best players in the world. They sent their best player, the cornerstone and face of of their franchise, and the building block upon which they were going to rebuild a once proud organization to a showcase event only to see him suffer his first major injury a year after he had his breakout performance. His name? Rick DiPietro.
It is convenient to forget how enamored the Islander fan base was with the #1 overall pick in the 2000 draft because of the ludicrous 15 year contract the team singed him to, but if you take a trip to the Nassau Coliseum (not that I recommend that) he is one of the few players whose jersey you see from a sad era in Islander history. DiPietro was viewed by the Islander faithful very similarly as they view John Tavares now. If goaltender were permitted to be captains in the NHL there’s no doubt DP would have had a ‘C’ on his chest. Then things took a dramatic change for him and the Islanders.
In the 2006-07 season, DP broke out at the age of 25, posting a 32-19-9 record, 2.58 goals against and a .919 save percentage, all career bests, and at 25 years old Islander fans were well within their rights to assume they had a budding superstar, and the backbone to their team for a long time to come. As we know, that was not the case. The next season DP’s career was permanently sidetracked. DiPietro suffered his first major injury while representing the Islanders at the skills competition of the 2008 All-Star game (his only appearance) and he has never truly recovered since. Instead of becoming a celebrated figure in Islander history he is now a living punch line at the end of barbs sent the way of Islander fans.
The recent injury to Tavares, 23, at the Olympics has awakened memories of the perpetual, ‘he’ll be back next year’ feelings I had in regards to DiPietro for many years. Tavares had officially broken out as a superstar last season, being nominated for a Hart Trophy alongside Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the faces of the league. A former number one overall pick suffering a knee injury in an event that doesn’t count in the standings, it all seems too similar.
I will not deny Tavares is a better talent than DiPietro was, even at his best, and I am confident that he will recover and be just as good as he was before what I’ll call the “Sochi Incident”, but I can’t shake the fact that I have seen this scenario play out before.