Every week of the 2018-19 season, our Rob Taub will discuss one player from the Islanders to look out for. Whether it’s past performances, certain matchups, or something about that player that makes worth spotlighting, each article will describe why they are being featured. Also — if one or two players, or the team is coming off a good week — there will be multiple spotlights.
Garth Snow might have been wrong about a multitude of things in his tenure as Islander general manager.
But one of the few things he definitely got right — Devon Toews.
Toews, 24, has been in the NHL for less than a cup of coffee. But as each game passes, it’s clearly evident that the Isles have a potential top-two stud for the near and distant future. In the ten games he’s played, Toews has four points (three goals and an assist) and is a +7 overall. The Abbotsford, BC native continues to produce — three goals in his last six games — and his steadiness at both ends of the ice, plus his smooth skating have given the Isles another threat on the blue line in the midst of the team’s best stretch of the season.
What a way to score your first career #NHL goal! 🙌
— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) January 4, 2019
The hype and the fanfare surrounding Toews goes back now a few years.
Actually passed over twice in the draft at age 18 and 19, the Isles plucked Toews in the fourth round, 108th overall in the 2014 draft. The scouting report on Toews said that he was a mobile d-man with sound offensive instincts. Knowing what he brings to the table now, Toews has earned the term “diamond in the rough” as writer Stan Fischler likes to say. Those instincts everyone spoke so highly of were on full display when he headlined the defense for the Quinnipiac University Bobcats.
“He understands the game better than most players,” his college coach Rand Pecknold told SNY this past summer. “Devon’s going to be a Corsi king – a top possession defender.”
The Corsi king stayed with Quinnipiac for three years and in his final campaign helped lead the Bobcats to the Frozen Four. After departing from college, Toews made his way to Bridgeport in 2016 — now as one of the more coveted prospects in the Isles system. In Bridgeport, Toews continued to excel and the hype kept increasing. Toews notched 45 points in his first season and was named an AHL All-Star and AHL All-Rookie Team. He also won the fastest skater in the All-Star skill competition. All those accomplishments had him on the fast track to be in an Islander uniform to start the 2017-18 season.
Toews made an impressive case to win a roster spot in the preseason, but was sent back to Bridgeport to start the season to work out a few kinks in his game. He started the 17-18 season right where he left off the year before, amassing points and showing flashes. Everything seemed right on schedule for Toews to eventually get the call to the varsity.
By late December, Toews had already registered 22 points in 30 games. But things went south when he went down with a devastating shoulder injury.
The injury would turn out to be season ending, costing Toews any chance of seeing the NHL last season, and in turn, helping the Islanders depleted defense that had lost Calvin de Haan for the season and were dealing with an oft-injured Johnny Boychuk and Scott Mayfield.
Hard to believe, Snow himself said that the Isles missed the postseason this season prior because of Toews absence, but maybe he might have been on to something.
Toews even decided to bet on himself when he signed a two-year extension, at a very friendly $700,000 in the summer.
Fast forward to this past training camp where Toews was fully healthy and locked and loaded to take one of the open spots on defense. He once again looked excellent in his trial run in during the exhibition games. Many warranted his performance to be what earned him a roster spot. But because he was coming off of the injury, Isles brass — new g.m. Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz — made the difficult decision to have him start the year back in the minors to get as much playing time as possible.
Toews took the decision and used it as motivation.
Playing 24 games in Bridgeport, the defensive stalwart totaled 19 points in 24 games, helping the Sound Tigers begin to win consistently for the first time in years. When Thomas Hickey went down on the Isles Western trip a few weeks ago, Toews was ready and rightfully got the call as the next man up.
Toews made his NHL debut in a 3-1 victory in Dallas where he played a very impressive 18 minutes. Trotz after the game gushed about the 24-year old, saying “He was really composed. I thought he was outstanding. Showed no nerves at all.”
Since that first game, Toews has been everything as advertised.
Watching him closely, he just plays with the mentality of a d-man beyond his years. His skating is superb — maybe even better than Nick Leddy and on-par with Mathew Barzal. His mindset offensively and his heady play defensively have led to fantastic contributions. And his shot? Underrated. Just ask Andrei Vasilevskiy and Curtis McElhinney.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?
— IslesBlog (@IslesBlog) January 14, 2019
Right now, with the effect he’s had on the team so far, it’s hard to see Toews being sent back down once Hickey comes back healthy.
Toews staying in the lineup is only going to make him more comfortable. Even seeing increased ice time and more responsibility — time on power play one, maybe some minutes on the penalty kill too — are realistic possibilities that will only prove how much more dangerous Toews could be for the team down the stretch. And with the Islanders right in the thick of the playoff chase and looking like they will be in it hopefully to the very end, having Toews in the fold playing playoff-style games could provide a significant advantage.
Teams are going to up their game to another level right after the All-Star break. That includes their speed. Toews has the speed and skill to give those opponents fits. Many have praised what Toews has done so far, but Barzal probably said it best.
“He’s added another weapon back there.”
And that’s one weapon that the Isles now have in their arsenal now and eventually many years to come.
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