The second season for any National Hockey League player is always a fascinating one, and it was no different for New YorkÂ Islanders’ Devon Toews.
Toews, who recorded 28 points in 68 games before the season was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak, experienced the highs and lows that come with being a sophomore in the NHL after he came shot out of a cannon in his rookie year in 2018-19.
As this season got underway, Toews had solidified himself in the top-4 on defense for the Isles. It was a result of his strong rookie campaign.
The hype around the 26-year-old had built up for a while before he first joined the Isles in December 2018 after veteran d-man Thomas Hickey suffered a concussion. He quickly showed that hype was real. Toews stuck with the big club the rest of the season and became a regular fixture on the blue line showing off his excellent skating and two-way style.
He also had a coming-out party of sorts in the postseason. Toews was the Isles’ best all-around player when Carolina swept them, and his final stat line in the playoffs read five points in eight games. At that moment, it felt like not only was Toews off to the races, but the Islanders were too.
â€œI knew he was a good skater and his ability to move the puck and transport it and all that,â€ head coach Barry Trotz said last season about Toews to reporters.
â€œProbably the poise; the poise in small areas, where some guys feel crowded if you will. They get the puck, and they whack it. He seems to have the poise in small areas, which is pretty beneficial when you can make those small plays and understand how much pressure is around you. That part is probably what surprised me the most, the poise.â€
Toews looked as last season wasn’t a fluke he with how hot on he was in the early going this season. He notched seven points in the first ten games, was averaging 18-21 minutes a night, and his display of swagger and confidence looked to be setting him up for a big season.
After the Isles’ 17-game point streak, his game seemed to tail off a bit. The term “sophomore slump” began to float its way out there, but its hard to say if it was precisely that. Sure the points weren’t coming in droves as they came earlier in the year, and some of his decisions with and without the puck could be questioned, but Toews was still contributing with his solid defensive play and helping quarterback the power play.
Then there came the Washington game just before the All-Star break, which was arguably Toews’s best and worst game of his career.
Toews had tallied three points — a goal and two assists –but it was his infamous mocking of the Caps’ Evgeny Kuznetsov’s bird celebration after he made it a 4-1 game that had a lasting effect. The Isles would surrender five straight goals in the third period and lost 6-4.
Trotz was furious with Toews and called out him out for “poking the bear” and exhibiting his immaturity.
â€œI didnâ€™t like some of the antics,â€ he acknowledged after that loss. â€œIt was a little bit immature on our part. Last year, we were dialed in there. This year, weâ€™re not dialed in there in trying to accept what we really are.â€
It’s moments such as that one that will be a learning tool for Toews to use, whether this season resumes or as he gets ready for next season. The same too for some of the other times, he prospered and dealt with adversity.
Â Toews has proven he’s going to be a quality defenseman for the Islanders for a very long time, and the organization knows it. That’s why g.m. Lou Lamoriello is so adamant that he won’t have a problem signing him or the club’s two other RFAs — Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock — for that matter.
Even at 26, there’s still room for Toews to grow his game both from a maturity standpoint as well as his performance on the ice. And going through an up-and-down season might have been the best thing for him at this stage of his career.