John Tavares said he expects to turn the Oshawa Generals into a winner again, and when the mayor shows up in a tuxedo and hands you a plaque welcoming you to the city, you better believe others expect the same.
At a news conference in the Bobby Orr Lounge at the Oshawa Civic Auditorium, the Generals yesterday unveiled the 14-year-old Tavares, whom they officially will pick first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft tomorrow.
"This organization has been a winning one since it joined the OHL and my first priority is to turn it into a winning team," said Tavares, who will be 15 on Sept. 20. "I am not Sidney Crosby, I am not Bobby Orr, I am John Tavares. I'm just here to help the team win. I don't really look at myself (as an exceptional player). Maybe you could say I am a unique player."
On Wednesday, Tavares became eligible for the draft when the OHL, after a thorough review by an evaluation panel, granted him exceptional player status. Otherwise, Tavares, who was joined yesterday by his parents, Barb and Joe, his sisters and a team of agents, would have had to wait until 2006 to play in the league.
Tavares, who accepted congratulations from Oshawa mayor John Gray, was a force with the Toronto Marlies minor midgets this past season, recording 91 goals and 67 assists in 72 games. He also had more than a point a game in a stint with tier-II Milton. Observers have told the Toronto Sun he reminds them of Mike Bossy, and Tavares, though he was not born when Bossy played, said he patterns himself after the former New York Islanders sniper.
The Gens figure Tavares, who is playing Jr. A lacrosse this summer for the Mississauga Tomahawks, will be a nice centrepiece for their new rink, which is slated to open in October 2006. Oshawa, which was last in the OHL in 2004-05, will bid for the 2008 Memorial Cup.
"Once (tomorrow) is over with, it's a long process," Oshawa general manager Brad Selwood said. "We're going to walk him through it. (But) I think the (franchise's fortunes) turned (Wednesday)at 3 o'clock, I really do, when they announced he was available. To go into that (new) rink knowing we have him is pretty exciting."
Tavares' mother doesn't seem to have many qualms with the pressures her son undoubtedly will meet.
"You're talking about a kid that pulled himself out of his crib when he was nine months," said Barb Tavares, who insisted John will live with billets and denied the family plans to move to Oshawa from Oakville. "He dropped out and got out of the crib. He was early from the get-go."
One of Tavares' agents, Bryan Deasley, indicated the family did not press the league to grant Tavares a bend in the rules, but later said:"The family was an active participant, but they were not pushing the league to get it done for their Johnny."
And how have the past few days been for John, who was presented with a vintage Generals sweater with his name and No. 91 on the back?
"It has been a little tough, but I am starting to get used to all of the attention," Tavares said.
Logic indicates much more is on the way.