John Tavares – The Next Great One?

John Tavares Canadian JuniorsConsidered by many to be the most talented player and most likely first overall pick in the upcoming 2009 NHL Entry Draft, John Tavares has been touted as a future superstar now for several years.  Born September 20, 1990 in Mississauga, Ontario, Tavares missed the cutoff date for eligibility in the 2008 Entry Draft by by 5 days.  As he had done a couple times in his early playing career, he and his agents petitioned the NHL to make an exception for him but the attempt was unsuccessful.

His playing style has been compared to Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky; some pretty good company.  He doesnt have blinding speed, but he compensates for that with great hands, tremendous vision and a desire to always improve.  While he won’t go through to many people at 6 feet 195 pounds, he is not afraid to fight through the checking.

While born in Mississauga, Tavares moved to Oakville, Ontario at a young age and was first exposed to hockey.  Before dedicating himself completely to hockey, Tavares also played soccer and lacrosse, following in his uncle John Tavares’ footsteps who is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the National Lacrosse League.  Tavares was known as such a competitive athlete at a young age that he would often be ejected from games for running over other players.  As with many players in the NHL, like Rick Nash, lacrosse helped Tavares learn many skills that would help in hockey such as spinning off checks and improving his hands.

During this time, Tavares would strike up a close friendship with Sam Gagner, the young center of the Edmonton Oilers and would play hockey on the backyard rink built by Sam’s father Dave Gagner, a former NHL player.

John Tavares – Early Hockey Days

Tavares first began playing hockey with the Oakville Rangers of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA).  At seven years old, the first of several exceptions would be made for Tavares’ exceptional hockey ability.   He was moved up one age group by his parents since he showed so much promise.  Next Tavares would move to the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) and would first play for the Mississauga Braves, but would move to the Mississauga Senators the following season, winning the championship in the 1999-2000 season.

Next Tavares would move to the Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL where he began to show that exceptional scoring ability for which he would become known.   During the 2003-04 season, Tavares would score 95 goals and 187 points in 90 games leading the Marlboro’s AAA Bantam team to the championship.  Next Tavares would play for the Marlboro’s minor midget team where he would only score 91 goals and 158 points in 72 games.

During the spring of 2005, Tavares would petition the OHL to allow him to play major junior.  The rules at the time stated that you must be 15 years old to be eligible for the OHL draft, however, the league introduced an “exceptional player” clause allowing him to be drafted at 14 years old.

John Tavares, New York Islanders, NHL
John Tavares has since become a superstar in the NHL (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Tavares would begin his major junior career during the 2005-06 season with the Oshawa Generals.  Over the next several years Tavares would take the OHL and the hockey world by storm.  Showing he could play in the OHL immediately, even at his young age, Tavares scored 10 goals in his first 9 games.  He finished his rookie season with 45 goals and 77 points in 65 games.  He was named to the OHL All-Rookie Team, was named the OHL’s Rookie of the Year as well as the CHL Rookie of the Year.

Tavares would get his first taste of international competition as well playing for Team Ontario in the 2006 World Under-17 Challenge and was also selected to play for Team Canada for the 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Championships in Sweden.  Both teams failed to win a medal.

During the following season (2006-07), as a 16 year old, Tavares would explode for 72 goals and 134 points in 67 games, winning the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player in the OHL and named the CHL Player of the Year.  Tavares was invited to the selection camp for the 2007 World Junior Championships but was not named to the final team.  He was named to Canada’s Under-20 team for the 2007 Super Series against Russia.

The 2007-08 would see more success for Tavares scoring 40 goals and 118 points in 59 games with the Generals.  He also would be invited to the selection camp for the World Junior Championships for a second straight year, except the result this time would be different.  This time Tavares would earn a roster spot and would score 4 goals in the tournament, helping Canada win its 4th straight gold medal.

Since the petition to gain eligibility for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft was denied, Tavares would return to the Oshawa Generals for a 4th season.  From the beginning of the season, there was much speculation as to whether Tavares would finish the year with the Generals.  The team was not expected to be very competitive and many speculated he would be traded.  It eventually happened on January 8, 2009 when Tavares was traded to the London Knights with two players for a package including 6 draft picks and2 players in return.  Tavares exploded with the Knights scoring 32 goals and 50 points in 24 games played and added 10 goals and 21 points in 14 playoff games.  The Knights were eliminated in the Western Conference Championship by the Windsor Spitfires.

Tavares was also selected to play in the 2009 World Junior Championships, his second consecutive invitation.  He finished the tournament with 8 goals and 15 points in 6 games (second to teammate Cody Hodgson in tournament scoring) leading Canada to a fifth straight gold medal.  He also was named MVP of the tournament, the Top Forward in the tournament and a Tournament All-Star.

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft will be held on June 26th.  The New York Islanders have won the lottery and will have the first pick in the draft.  Will they draft Tavares?  Most belive so, however, there is a challenge for that #1 spot by Victor Hedman, a hulking defenseman from Sweden who has been compared to Chris Pronger.  It is safe to say that whether Tavares is picked first or second, all eyes will be on him come the 2009-10 hockey season.

– For Tavares Major Junior Stats refer to the Internet Hockey Database

– A feature article at Hockey’s Future

– Video Highlights on Youtube

Did You Know?

  • Tavares’ 72 goals broke a record set by Wayne Gretzky for goals in a season by a 16 year old
  • On March 18, 2009, Tavares set the career OHL goal scoring record with his 214th goal breaking the record held by Peter Lee (1976)
  • Tavares was the youngest player ever drafted by the OHL (He was not the youngest to play in the OHL however, that honor went to Bobby Orr)
  • Tavares has accumulated 12 goals in his World Junior Championship tournament career to tie Eric Lindros and Jeff Carter for the most all time for a Canadian junior