Tavares eligible for draft

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:12 AM ET

John Tavares' exceptional wish has been granted by the Ontario Hockey League.

As expected, the OHL yesterday declared that Tavares, a 14-year-old who turns 15 in September, will be eligible for the draft on Saturday. The Oshawa Generals, who hold the first pick, have called a news conference for 6 p.m. today when they will announce Tavares is their guy.

OHL commissioner David Branch could not stress enough yesterday that the league does not want 15-year-olds playing on its member teams. However, the league's governors agreed doors could be opened for what Branch calls exceptional players.

"We don't think 15-year-olds should be playing junior hockey," Branch said. "But I believe there are exceptions and I don't believe we should be afraid of exceptional people."

A native of Oakville, Tavares had 83 goals and 64 assists in 77 games with the Toronto Marlies minor midgets this season. He also had 23 points in 16 games with tier-II Milton.

But it's not just because Tavares is a superior hockey player -- few say Tavares will be anything less than a dominant player in the OHL -- that he has been granted an early opportunity to skate in the league.

When Tavares applied to get exceptional player status to become draft eligible, intensive steps were taken by the OHL to ensure that he is suited to handle the emotional and academic challenges that will arise.

An evaluation panel consisting of Kevin Burkett, a labour arbitrator and former coach; Frank Bonello, the director of central scouting for the NHL; and former NHL star Doug Gilmour was given the authority by the OHL to determine whether Tavares was fit for the league. Once Tavares applied, with the consent of his parents Barb and Joe, he endured a heavy screening process.

EVALUATIONS

Evaluations from Tavares' teachers, hockey coach and OHL central scouting were submitted. He had to write an essay explaining why he wanted to play in the OHL next season.

Tavares also was interviewed by sports psychologist Paul Dennis.

It was then left to the panel to decide Tavares' future. In the coming years, when a player wants to apply for exceptional player status, he will have to pay a $1,000 fee. The league hopes that will limit applications to the serious nature. As it is, only youngsters who are off the charts will be considered.

"The process required that the decision be made on the far more broad base than an individual's athletic ability," Burkett said. "I am speaking to the individual's character and his educational prowess. The decision was difficult, as it should be. The bar should be set high in these cases."

The OHL is acting under a proposal for identifying exceptional players that will go before Hockey Canada at its annual general meeting later this month.

"If Hockey Canada rejects the ruling that allows John Tavares to play in our league (which is not likely), I would suggest we will continue to have a process in place to deal with exceptional players on a regional basis," Branch said.


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