Positioned for long playoff run

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Last year, the London Knights traded away the top player in the OHL.

That's how goalie Steve Mason became a Kitchener Ranger.

But it didn't take London GM Mark Hunter long to get the league's best player back. John Tavares -- world junior tournament MVP -- is now a Knight.

"We thought we had a pretty good team here and we wanted to do what we felt it would take to win four (playoff) rounds," said Hunter, who pulled off the biggest deal in the Canadian Hockey League this year to land Tavares. "There's a lot of teams here that could win it. Guelph is improving and Belleville's good. A lot of teams are taking their shot.

"So we wanted to make sure we were in it too and didn't get left behind. We did this to compete with the Windsors and the Bramptons. We want to position ourselves for another long playoff run.

"That's why we made the deal with Oshawa."

The Knights picked up Tavares, defenceman Michael Del Zotto and 19-year-old goalie Daryl Borden.

Now the expectation is the same as it was for the Knights in 2004-05. Get to the Memorial Cup and win it.

"We have some good players and talent on this team and that's why I felt I had to make this trade," Hunter said. "We're sending them (the Generals) some good, young talent and a lot of draft picks (six). But we did what we thought we had to do."

Tavares is expected to be the first player selected in the NHL draft this summer at Montreal. For the Knights, it would be the third time in seven years (Rick Nash in 2002, Pat Kane in 2007) the first pick played in London.

"With those kind of players, you let them play," Hunter said, "but you have to create a team atmosphere. It's the only way it will work. John doesn't have to be the only one. There's a lot of talent here to work with."

Hunter wouldn't say if he was done yet. The Knights still have a little bit of room to make another move before the league's trade deadline expires at noon today.

"We'll see," he said.

The Knights now have four potential first-line forwards -- Tavares, Nazem Kadri, Phil McRae and Justin Taylor -- and a lot of scoring help from players like Daniel Erlich and, when he returns likely next week from a knee injury, Phil Varone.

At the back end, the team can put out two NHL first-rounders at the same time -- Del Zotto and Washington Capitals prospect John Carlson.

Hunter had pursued this deal for a long time. The irony was delicious with Oshawa GM and coach Chris DePiero able to lean on former Kitchener boss Peter DeBoer, the current Florida Panthers coach and part-owner of the Generals, who made the deal to bring Mason to the Rangers last year.

In return, he provided Hunter with some key building blocks for this year's run -- Kadri, Varone and defenceman Steve Tarasuk.

But Hunter wasn't pleased with a Sportsnet report on Monday that already had Tavares going to London as a done deal.

"I don't know where that came from but it wasn't true," he said. "It was disappointing because this isn't the NHL. These are just kids and there were players on our team coming up to ask me if they're being traded.

"It wasn't fair to them. It put them in a tough spot."


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