Tavares has that special something

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

The Ontario Hockey League amended its rules to let John Tavares play for the Oshawa Generals this season.

He became the first 14-year-old to be drafted under the league's "exceptional" provision and it takes about five minutes watching him on the ice and even less time in conversation to see the decision was a no-brainer.

The Oakville prodigy turned 15 years old less than two weeks ago. Yesterday, he was at St. Mike's, playing with and against players as much as five years older than he. Most of them only wish they had his talent, brains and maturity.

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This is not one of those "the next Sidney Crosby" prediction pieces. Nobody deserves to be saddled with that "next one" label. But wherever this boy ends up, right now he does deserve the opportunity to be right where he is: With the best young hockey prospects on the planet.

Yesterday his team got blindsided, blowing a two-goal third-period lead and lost 7-6 in overtime against the Majors. And, truth be told, Tavares didn't have a game for the ages. The best part is that he knew it and didn't try to sugarcoat it.

Last year, as a 14-year-old playing against players a year older, he scored 91 goals and 167 points in 72 games with the Marlies AAA minor midgets. Then, just for kicks, he scored 13 goals and had 28 points in 20 games with Milton in the Tier 2 junior Provincial League. In his first three league games with Oshawa, he had scored four times. Yesterday, nothing. Two minutes into the game, he rifled a wrist shot off the post, but that was about it.

"I'm just trying to do my job and perform the role that Randy (Ladouceur, the coach) wants me to play," Tavares said. "It's nice to score but it's more important to win and we didn't get that today.

"I was minus-3 out there and I've really got to work on that. Today wasn't a great day but hopefully I can rebound with a few hard practices this week and a solid game on Friday.

"This was my first big learning curve, right here in this game. I'm just going to have to get over this one."

Yesterday's game was a tough one to take for Ladouceur but he shrugged it off quickly, perhaps because he knows he has Tavares to build around for the next four years. The kid is so young he won't be eligible for the NHL draft until 2009.

Still, Tavares is so polished both as a teenager and as a player, it's easy to forget his age.

"Absolutely," Ladouceur said. "Every day. He's a real good player. He looks real good out there. You get tempted to overuse him. It's something that I'm going to have to watch."

Even as young as he is, it's easy to recognize that Tavares has that special something that sets the great ones apart. His puck sense is uncanny, his positioning instinctive. It helps also to have his raw talent. And, get this: He speaks in real sentences, unlike most teenagers I know. Still, his progress bears watching, especially by those charged with his welfare in the Oshawa organization.

"Each level you move up to, things are going to get a little bit more difficult," Ladouceur said. "He has had an exceptional start for a guy his age, but even Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux get held off the scoresheet from time to time. That's part of the learning curve.

There is no question the OHL is uncomfortable, with good reason, about having kids who barely are removed from childhood performing in its arenas. Not many are prepared for such a transition.

But, if the OHL chooses to use Tavares as the standard by which all future applicants are measured, they shouldn't have much of a problem. Almost no one will make the grade.


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