Tavares continues to grow

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:54 PM ET

It's no surprise John Tavares will wow you with his talent.

After all, this was the kid who turned the OHL upside down, forcing it to establish a rule allowing exceptionally talented players to be drafted a year before their normal draft age.

But as difficult as it is to believe, the "wow factor" jumps considerably when you talk to him. You just don't get 16-year-olds who are as mature and well-spoken.

Here's the statistical aspect of his game. As a 15-year-old in his first season with the Oshawa Generals, a team that won only 18 games, Tavares had 45 goals and 32 assists. After 16 games this year, he has 15 goals and 10 assists.

How good can he be?

Scary good.

Unless the NHL makes its own Tavares rule, he won't be eligible to be drafted until 2009. He could play six years in the OHL, but not that's going to happen.

Tavares was at the John Labatt Centre last night, playing against his good friend, London Knights forward Sam Gagner, and took time to give him a few friendly barbs.

The two played together with the Toronto Marlboros minor organization and spent hours on Gagner's backyard rink in Mississauga.

"I talked to him earlier in the week and we were joking, talking about how we we're going to beat each other up," Tavares laughed. "He told me I'd be scared of this arena, but I told him no way, I played well here before in my first game.

"I played for years on his backyard rink and I told him 'I've seen everything you have, so there's no surprises.' We both really got at it."

The shinny they played on that rink has obviously honed their skills.

"We'd practise Saturday mornings with the Marlies and then in the afternoon we'd be on his rink all day. I wouldn't even call. I'd just show up and I knew he would be out there. We'd play all night and early the next morning until we practised on Sunday," Tavares said.

Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators was probably the last player to create the type of hype Tavares has generated when Spezza came into the league in 1998. But even he didn't carry the weight of the expectations Tavares carries.

"Expectations actually grow," Tavares said. "You make your mark in the league and you do well, which is what everyone expects you to do and you prove yourself. You do that and people put even higher expectations on me. I just want to get better as a hockey player, try and be more of a complete player and try and turn this team into a winning team. That's what I want to be known as -- someone who can win."

As Tavares says, "it happens when you play well and put up good numbers."

Living in a fishbowl, being a target every time you step on the ice, dealing with constant interview requests and learning to deal with it is just part of the package

"There's pressure. I think I've dealt with it my whole life," he said. "It's not an issue with me anymore. I just play, it's what I love to do. I want to go out there and have fun, do whatever I have to do and play hockey."

And what about the publicity and the annoying interviews?

"It takes time to get used to, but after a while, it's a normal thing in my life," he said. "It just becomes a part of what you do and you do it."

Like most potentially great players, Tavares knows "you can always get better."

And like potentially great players, Tavares knows how he'll make his mark.

"I just don't want to be known as a good player, I want to be known as a winner.

"Look at Steve Yzerman and Joe Sakic, guys like that. They're great hockey players, but they did what they had to do to win. That's how they're looked at. Not what they did, but how many rings they have on their fingers and how many games they helped their team win."


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