Big year expected for Tavares

SHANE ROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

It's finally here, the year John Tavares and all the people who have followed his remarkable hockey career have been waiting for.

It's his draft year, the year that will determine what direction his professional hockey career will take, and it began this past weekend at the national junior team development camp at the University of Ottawa.

Can this guy really only be 17 years old? It seems like he's been touted as a No. 1 NHL draft pick forever, or at least since he was granted "exceptional player status" and drafted by the Oshawa Generals as a 14-year-old in 2005.

He may no longer be the youngest player at camp -- Nazem Kadri's got him by 16 days -- but the "Next One" expectations remain the same. Nobody has to tell him that part of those expectations will be to help Canada win a gold medal at the world junior hockey championship in Ottawa, as he did last year in the Czech Republic.

He knows, for heaven's sake, he knows.

"People have been telling me I'll be No. 1 for a long time and expectations grow," said Tavares, who had 118 points in 59 games with the Generals last season. "I've been playing in the (OHL) for three years now and people start to pick my game apart a little more and more, but I think it helps me improve my game where I need to.

"It's nice that (my draft year) is finally here, but I've had a great time along the way."

Local hockey fans hope there are more great times to be had, especially from Dec. 26-Jan. 5, when the world juniors come to Ottawa, but Tavares, who finally turns 18 on Sept. 20, is trying to keep things in perspective.

"I just try to focus on being a kid. I'm still one of the two youngest guys here and I still have a lot to learn."

Still, national team coach Benoit Groulx is looking to Tavares for leadership.

"We know what John can bring to this team. He is a proven player," Groulx said. "What we expect from him is to show leadership."


Videos

Photos