Injured Taylor inspirational leader

RYAN PYETTE, LONDON FREE PRESS

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

The disappearing two-goal leads were frustrating.

The constant overtimes were exhausting.

The five-game OHL Western Conference final loss against Windsor was, in John Tavares' words, "a emotionally, physically and mentally draining series."

But when the stakes were raised and the tank neared empty, all the London Knights had to do was look at what Justin Taylor went through just to stay on the ice.

Instant inspiration.

The 20-year-old Londoner played one third of the OHL season and the entire postseason suffering from a dislocated shoulder.

"It's just something I had from when I was younger and then you'd bump into someone and it would pop out," Taylor said. "It was hard to fend off checks and that sort of thing but it's the playoffs and you want to win so you just keep going."

He wore a brace to protect the shoulder and didn't shy away from his usual bump-and-grind, first-guy-in-the-corner style of play. Now that the Knights are done, he won't be playing hockey for a while.

"I'll have to get surgery right away here," he said. "It's a four-month recovery. I want to be ready" for Washington Capitals training camp next fall.

Taylor enjoyed his best season (37 goals) and most productive playoff. He had six goals and 12 points to surpass the four-goal, 10-point rookie postseason he had in 2007, the year David Meckler kept scoring on a broken foot.

He formed an all-bad shoulder forward line with Tavares, who marveled at his teammate's resiliency.

"We knew JT (Taylor) was going through something pretty bad," Tavares said. "But he was able to stick with it."

Tavares downplayed his own shoulder woes that dogged him since Spitfires star Taylor Hall belted him back on Feb. 6. The Knights sniper rehabbed at the Fowler-Kennedy clinic until about three weeks ago.

"The shoulder wasn't the same as it was before the hit," he said, "but I was able to give hits and take them so it didn't really inhibit me."

Tavares came under fire at times for his play this spring.

He had his best OHL post-season -- 10 goals and 21 points in 14 games. But one well-known scouting ranking list -- Red Line Report -- knocked him down to third-best NHL prospect behind Sweden's Victor Hedman and Brampton's Matt Duchene.

"To hear me being called selfish, that was new," the 18-year-old said. "I have always tried to be a team player. I know I have a lot to work on. I'm always trying to make myself a better player and what I learned I think will set me up well for what this summer brings.

"I think I can keep at the same weight (198 pounds) but it's a matter of becoming more lean, making sure the weight is in the right spots."

Tavares' legacy will be the series loss to Windsor, but he also established the OHL career goal record of 215 and scored 32 goals in 24 regular-season games after the trade.

"It was disappointing to lose a series that close," he said. "When we look back on our junior days, we'll all remember this one. I learned so much playing for the Hunters and with this group of guys, it was special to be part of this."

Tavares will be around. He plans to attend Knights training camp this fall.

"I have a good (workout) setup back home," he said, "but having Dave Gagner (former Knights assistant coach) and his place (Power Play Training Centre at Western Fair) obviously helps, too."

When Eric Wellwood scored the Game 5 overtime winner on Wednesday, it ended the Knights' season -- and the junior careers of captain Scott Aarssen and fellow defencemen Matt Clarke and Kevin Montgomery. But it didn't tear this team apart.

"It was a hell of a series," Daniel Erlich said. "It was one of the best series this year. This was a tight group, an upbeat team and nothing can change that.

"I hope to get drafted this year but if not, hopefully I'll get an invite to an NHL camp. At the same time, I'll be cheering for John (Tavares), Nazem (Kadri) and Phil Varone the whole way in the draft.

"They're all my good buddies and I wish them the best of luck."


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