Tavares the real thing at 15

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

It's becoming a common marketing tool in many OHL arenas where teams are looking to sell a few more tickets.

"Come out on Thursday and see 15-year-old John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals," the public address announcer exclaims.

The message creates the necessary buzz. Everyone is curious about the kid.

Tavares, the under-ager picked first overall by Oshawa in this summer's draft after the OHL allowed it under an "exceptional player" clause, has generally been everything he, his agent and family said he would be at this level.

He can play this game and OHL onlookers, especially those in Canada's Motor City, will get to watch the six-foot, 183-pounder's game grow over the next three years.

"Now, we're John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals," one team employee said this week. "We used to be Eric Lindros and the Oshawa Generals. Before that, we were Bobby Orr and the Oshawa Generals."

Heading into last night's home game against Toronto St. Michael's, Tavares already had 10 goals and was tied for second in OHL rookie scoring behind London's Sergei Kostitsyn, who is three years older.

"It's gone well," Tavares said yesterday. "We haven't won as much as we would've liked, but we've been in pretty much every game, which is encouraging."

Oshawa makes its lone visit here tonight and Tavares, who rolled through London during the Memorial Cup and also competed in the Ontario Games here in lacrosse, is excited about his John Labatt Centre debut.

"I'm looking forward to playing in front of 9,000 people," he said. "I know the Knights have a good team with (Rob) Schremp, (Adam) Dennis and (Dylan) Hunter back. It's a good test."

Tavares logs 20 to 25 minutes of ice a game and the Generals aren't afraid to use him in any situation. "I'm getting a ton of ice time . . . and I'm getting time on the power play and penalty kill," he said.

More than most, Schremp knows the pressure surrounding Tavares to succeed. The high-scoring Knights forward was once the first pick in the OHL draft by Mississauga.

"He came with a lot of publicity behind him and people are watching closely to see if he can play," Schremp said.

"It's tough because you're a rookie, you're just trying to find your way and everyone's watching you to see if you can handle it. You have one bad game and everyone will say he stinks. The players cut guys some slack because we've all been through it.

"You go through the jabs but all that only lasts a couple of months. But by the time you're feeling comfortable, everybody has stopped watching you so closely."

Tavares has heard both cheers and taunts and seen the good and bad sides of the OHL.

"Maybe people are yelling some stuff, but I'm not focused on that -- I'm trying to focus on what I'm doing on the ice."

He's talked with his pal from the Toronto Marlies midgets, Akim Aliu, who had a nightmare start with the Windsor Spitfires.

"He's a good kid so I feel pretty bad for him," Tavares said. "I hope it gets better for him soon there."

Schremp said it's never easy for a young player to handle the responsibility of being a key in turning around a franchise's fortunes.

"I think (Tavares) is going to be able to adjust. The big thing is he has three years to figure it out. When you first come in as the top pick, the veterans on a team aren't going to act like you're their best friend right off the bat but as long as you're a good guy and don't act like you own the team, you'll be all right. In Mississauga, the guys liked my personality so it was easy to fit in."

Though he's a year younger, there's little doubt Tavares will be on the Ontario team at the World Under-17 Challenge in Saskatchewan over Christmas. The team will be coached by Knights assistant Jacques Beaulieu.

"John's a special talent. He's going to be a superstar," Beaulieu said. "We were shocked the OHL changed the rules to allow him to be picked. He scored 10 goals already so he's proving everybody right. He plays a lot and he's going to see a lot of (defencemen) Frank (Rediker) and Scott Aarssen (tonight)."

KNIGHTWATCH

Knights vs. Generals

When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

JOHN TAVARES FILE

Team: Oshawa Generals

Position: Centre

Birthdate: Sept. 20, 1990 in Oakville

Height: Six-foot

Weight: 183 pounds

Shoots: Left

Number: 91

Acquired: First pick overall by Oshawa in the 2005 OHL draft, he was eligible as an "exceptional player"

2005-06 statistics: Not including last night's game, 9 GP, 10 G, 4 A, 14 P, 6 PIM, plus-5 rating


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