Tavares would swap award for shot at title

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:27 PM ET

RIMOUSKI, Que. -- John Tavares accepted the Canadian Hockey League's top NHL draft prospect award yesterday in the city where Sidney Crosby spent his junior days.

It still bugs him he won't need his skates for the Rimouski Colisee ice today.

"It's difficult to watch," the 18-year-old London Knights sniper said. "You're at the rink and you think about what it would've been like when Sidney played here. It sucks our team in London didn't get here."

Tavares won't stick around for this afternoon's Memorial Cup final between WHL champion Kelowna Rockets and the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. He was non-committal on who he thinks will win.

"Just from playing Windsor, they've shown all year the ability to battle back and they've done it here, too," he said. "But Kelowna's coming in with the fresher legs."

Tavares had a chance to catch up with Drummondville's injured forward Chris DiDomenico. The Voltigeurs star broke his left femur in the Quebec league final and spent the tournament watching from beside the bench in a wheelchair.

"We were staying at the same hotel and we played on the same line at the world juniors," he said. "That was a pretty significant injury he had but he said the recovery's going very well."

Two years ago, Tavares won the CHL's top player award. This year, it went to Brampton's Cody Hodgson, whose brother Clayton accepted on the Battalion captain's behalf because the Vancouver Canucks' first-rounder is playing in the American Hockey League post-season with the Manitoba Moose.

Windsor's Bob Boughner won a second consecutive coach of the year and Belleville's Mike Murphy grabbed top goalie

Would Tavares have traded his award to be playing in the big game today?

"Yes," he said. "One hundred per cent."

Crosby appeared in the Cup final with Rimouski at London's John Labatt Centre in 2005. There was no doubt who Pittsburgh would select in that summer's draft.

But after Tavares being projected as the top pick in 2009 for the past four years, there have been recent cases made for Sweden defenceman Victor Hedman and Hodgson's Brampton teammate Matt Duchene moving ahead of him next month in Montreal.

The NHL combine starts this week in Toronto. The status of the shoulder Tavares injured four months ago on a hit by Windsor's Taylor Hall still is at issue.

"We'll see how it is," Tavares said. "I've been riding the bike every day. You try to get ready for it as best as you can."

The OHL's career scoring leader recently visited the New York Islanders. The club showed him around and he had lunch with forward Doug Weight.

"That was really nice because he's a veteran and he's been around the league a long time so it was good to hear his perspective," Tavares said. "I don't know what they're going to do (with the pick). But it's coming up fast. It's exciting."

Tavares also has spoken with Atlanta. The Leafs haven't made contact but no one is ruling out a team trading up to acquire the top pick.

"It would make it more interesting," the world junior MVP said.

Hall will carry the mantle as the top NHL prospect into the 2010 draft. He has been following what's been going on with Tavares.

"You see what's being said about him and I think he's handled this really well," Hall said. "They talk about Hedman but I've played against them both and there's no doubt in my mind Johnny's going to be the first pick overall and have a better career.

"Nothing against Victor, but John's going too put up points and the intangibles he has make up for anything people think he's missing."

RYAN.PYETTE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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