Tavares awes new teammate

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:10 AM ET

Ben Shutron remembers hearing the hype about John Tavares and now he doesn't mind spreading it himself.

A defenceman with the Kingston Frontenacs and a highly ranked prospect for the NHL entry draft this June, Shutron saw plenty of the young Oshawa Generals star this past season.

For the time being, they are teammates with Canada's under-18 team, which leaves tonight for Sweden for the 2006 under-18 world championship. Shutron is happy that, for a change, he won't have to defend against Tavares while they are on the same ice surface.

"To have players in our league like him is just awesome and it's great publicity," Shutron said. "We played (Oshawa) in the first game of the season and he scored in the first period, just picked the corner. You could tell then he was a player. Then in the last game we played them, he caught me with a little shoulder fake that he was not throwing at the beginning of the season. You could tell what kind of experience he had gained."

After exhibition games against Sweden on Sunday and Germany on Monday, Canada will play Slovakia in its tournament opener on Wednesday. Canada won silver last year.

The under-18 tournament is the natural next step for Tavares, who won't be 16 until September. He is the youngest player Canada has sent to this event, and for good reason: After being granted exceptional player status by the OHL to make him eligible for the draft, Tavares was picked first by the Generals and had 45 goals and 32 assists in 65 games. As a point of reference, Jason Spezza, at 15 for the Brampton Battalion in 1998-99, had 22 goals and 49 assists in 67 games. It's expected Tavares will be named OHL rookie of the year.

WORLD JUNIORS NEXT

Tavares not only never has played in an international event for Canada, he has not been overseas. But he stands a good chance of going to Sweden again before the end of the year. The 2007 world junior tournament begins in late December, and Tavares said he has been thinking about making that club.

"This was a goal of mine after I realized we weren't going to make the playoffs," he said. "I want to have at least a shot at the world junior. I know it's not a guarantee."

What Canada under-18 coach Greg Gilbert wants from Tavares is to keep doing what he did all season for the Generals. Though Gilbert won't put any undue pressure on Tavares, the kid was not picked for the team just to fill a sweater.

"John is going to find one way or another because he is so competitive," Gilbert said. "He comes from a competitive family. We just don't want to see him get into a situation where he is starting to struggle or lose confidence."

It's difficult to think of Tavares in those terms, given his success this season.

Tavares wants to do all he can to make his first stint in a Canada sweater memorable.

"It's incredible, something I will remember for the rest of my life," the Oakville native said. "I want to help this team as much as I can. It doesn't matter who scores the goals, as long as we win the gold medal."


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