More changes to come

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:26 AM ET

There are auxiliary benefits to being John Tavares' teammate.

Fellow London Knight forward Phil Varone is no actor but he understands how hockey mirrors Hollywood: When people flock to see the star, there's a chance for the supporting cast to tell its story, too.

"With John here, we know the place will be packed and there will be a lot of scouts here to watch him every game," Varone said. "That gives players like Nazem Kadri (the OHL's third-ranked player for the next NHL draft) and myself (Varone's 20th-ranked among skaters) the opportunity to show what we can do, too."

While almost every set of eyes zoned in on what Tavares was doing in his two-goal, three-point Knights debut in a 7-3 victory over Mississauga yesterday at the John Labatt Centre, it was hard not to notice Varone plugging away in his first game back after a deeply bruised knee injury kept him out for nearly a month.

"Two days after the injury (which happened on Dec. 14 during a collision with Sarnia captain Matt Martin), I was riding the bike," Varone said. "I've always had the ability to heal fast and come back quickly from injuries. It happened with this one and when I had shoulder surgery, I've been able to bounce back in a hurry."

Rehabilitation was more stressful this time because of pre-trade deadline reports that he would be included in a Knights deal to land Tavares. To his relief, he wasn't.

"I went to (London GM Mark Hunter) and was assured that I wasn't going anywhere and that meant a lot to me," the 18-year-old from Vaughan said. "I missed my chance to play for the Memorial Cup last year (when host Kitchener made him part of the Steve Mason deal) and I didn't want it to happen again.

"Of course, you start to wonder, 'Why me?' Why does my name keep coming up in these things? It's tough but I knew all I could do was focus on getting better."

Varone didn't lose his team or his position at centre with Tavares' arrival. Right now, he's too excited to worry about it.

"Centre is the preferred position but to be on the ice at the same time as guys like John Tavares and Nazem Kadri, I'll go play defence if that's what they want," he said.

There will be some movement after all the changes. Shortly after John Tavares was introduced to London on Friday, Dale Hunter started to fuss over his potential line combinations.

"I have a lot of centres here," the Knights head coach said. "Some guys are going to have to adjust but that's good for them. Because when you get to the NHL, you may be told to play on the wing.

Nazem Kadri and expert face-off man Phil McRae, for instance, are going to have to get used to life on the wings. But like Varone, they'll be willing to give up the middle to play with more talent.

"Because of the dynamics of our lineup, Nazem and Phil will have to adjust to new positions," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "I don't know if we have to play John (30 minutes a game) yet. I think we have more depth on this team."

They also have a tonne of left-handed shooting forwards. The Knights often send out a line with all left sticks. They also introduced a power play with two forwards and three defencemen, using John Carlson as a rover.

But with Michael Del Zotto on board at the back end, the defence will need to undergo some fine-tuning when captain Scott Aarssen returns in a month from a re-fracturing of his ankle. There will be seven veteran defencemen on the roster when he comes back.

"We're going to have to look at things because I don't think we'll be dressing seven D so one very good player is likely going to have to sit out," Curcio said.

It's all part of getting Tavares. The rest of the Knights knew they might have to give a little to get a lot in return.


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