Tavares finding his London groove

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:27 AM ET

On John Tavares' first day as a London Knight, he looked tired and terribly uncomfortable.

He had just left behind 3 1/2 years of his life in Oshawa, the only OHL team he has known.

He put on a new jersey with no captain's C and unfamiliar digits -- 61, the number Rick Nash wore when he was a Knights standout eight years ago.

Tavares wasn't even the only "JT" in the dressing room. London already had on board veteran forward Justin Taylor.

The Knights heard they were getting, not just a great goal scorer, but a charismatic leader. They saw it shine through in his interviews on TSN during the world junior.

Agent Pat Brisson said London will love his personality. Oshawa GM Chris DePiero, who just traded him, said he would be a tremendous leader.

But for a while, Tavares was, well, kind of reserved. Still tip-toeing around the place.

"John's more of a quiet guy that way," said New York Rangers first-rounder Michael Del Zotto, who came along from Oshawa with his pal in the blockbuster OHL trade. "Me, it took about a day and then I was back laughing and joking with the guys in the room."

In Oshawa, the 18-year-old Tavares was the face of the franchise. With London, he was just looking to fit in again.

"There's no question when he got here it was a change and it would take some time for him to become comfortable and find his routine," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "He was real quiet the first few days here, but now you look at him and he's laughing and joking with the rest of the guys on the team.

"And it's evident in his play that he's feeling more comfortable."

Tuesday in Kitchener, Tavares had his best offensive game as a Knight, collecting four goals and six points in a 9-0 dismantling of the Rangers.

But that wasn't why he was happy. He felt great for linemate Nazem Kadri, who scored the game's first goal in his return to Kitchener after helping the team make it to the Memorial Cup final last year.

"That was nice to see," Tavares said. "We've been building some good chemistry together. He knows the spots where to pass the puck."

London left yesterday for its longest road trip of the season. It's the Knights best chance to bond together. The Knights play in Kingston tonight, Belleville tomorrow and Ottawa on Sunday.

London head coach Dale Hunter loves to shuffle his lines -- sometimes from shift-to-shift. Tavares has already been on the ice at least once with every forward on the roster.

But Kadri, who won't fall too far after Tavares in the NHL draft this summer at Montreal, has been his most consistent running mate.

"Johnny's, to me, the best (junior) player in Canada right now," Kadri said. "You want to be on a line with a guy like that and prove you can play with him."

Recently, Tavares realized he was closing in on the 400-point mark for his four-year OHL career.

He hit it in Kitchener. He has 196 goals. The league's career record is 215 by former Ottawa 67's forward Peter Lee.

The Knights have 20 games left. At the rate he's scoring, it's a foregone conclusion.

Since the big trade, he has 13 goals and 20 points in just seven games.

The Knights hit a rough patch last week when they dropped a pair to the Niagara IceDogs. Tavares was shut out in St. Catharines and a minus-seven in the two games.

How did he respond? With five goals and 10 points in his next two games, wins over Sudbury and Kitchener. Tavares was plus-eight.

"It's been good so far," Tavares said this week. "We know what we have to do as a team. A couple of games, we had good chances but didn't finish as well as we would've liked.

"We just have to keep working at it."


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