October 6, 2009
Knights' influence felt on many fronts
By RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA
It was, Steve Tarasuk said, a big Saturday for the London Knights.
Alumnus John Tavares just scored his first NHL goal for the New York Islanders.
Ditto for Michael Del Zotto, who became the New York Rangers' first teenaged defenceman to score since Mario Marois in 1977.
Heck, even Edmonton's Sam Gagner dropped his mitts and fought Calgary veteran Craig Conroy.
And in Erie, Knights defenceman Tarasuk capped his first two-goal game in the OHL by scoring the overtime winner to beat the Otters. Flu-ridden London (5-1) has won three in a row heading into Windsor on Thursday.
"Our third game in three nights, you feel a little bit tired, it was Erie's home opener, it was back-and-forth and we found a way," Tarasuk said. "(Captain) Justin Taylor scores late in the third -- that showed great leadership. We pulled it out even though we were a little shorthanded."
The performance also highlighted the difference between trading for the future and the present.
A couple of years ago, Knights GM Mark Hunter dealt star goalie Steve Mason to Kitchener for three players.
Those ex-Rangers are all still contributing.
Nazem Kadri is the Knights' best forward.
Phil Varone missed the Erie trip with the flu, but he's a key cog in the offence.
Tarasuk is the new minute-eating horse on the blue-line.
Last season, Hunter acquired Tavares, Del Zotto and goalie Daryl Borden, who opted to try out for the AHL's Rochester Americans this fall after helping Brantford win the OHA junior B Sutherland Cup.
None are now in London.
"We knew Tavares would be gone," Hunter said.
"We hoped we would get Del Zotto back but you're never sure. We just have to wait and see (until New York's 10-game mark) what they do," Hunter said.
Del Zotto could be the Knights' Sam Gagner this season. He may never come back.
Hunter is talking to Isles GM Garth Snow about Russian defender Anton Klementyev, who's still with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers. That one could take a while.
Until it's sorted out, Tarasuk has relished his new gig. He has seven points in six games and has a plus-seven rating.
"I like to look at it that everyone has their own role," he said, "and yes, some guys will have more minutes than others but everyone has an important job to do. I'm 20-years-old now so I expect to take on a bigger role on the team."
Kadri, who turns 19 today, has two goals and three points in three games since Toronto sent him back. The Knights offence, he believes, isn't where it will be in a month.
"We won three but we didn't play our best games," he said. "I know we can do better. You can see the talent we have up front. We didn't lose a lot from last year. But it takes some time. Once we get everyone together for a while, I think we'll be a very dynamic offence."
Kadri himself requires an adjustment period. He just returned from an NHL environment where the game happens quickly.
"Those are veteran guys who have played the game for a very long time," he said. "What I take back with me here is the dedication to being a pro that those guys have, whether it be in the workout room or just making sure they had their protein shake in hand after the game.
"You notice the discipline that goes into it."
And it underscores the odds that teens like Del Zotto are beating in a quest to stay in the big leagues all season.