Draft mystery for Tavares

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

John Tavares is trying to get a feel for how large his NHL draft entourage will be when he arrives in Montreal a week from today.

"How many does Naz (Kadri) have going?" the London Knights forward inquired of his teammate, who has a large clan and is expected to be taken in the first eight picks.

Enough that he could fill up his own Kadri-chartered airplane, he's told.

"I'll have a lot, too," Tavares replied. "My parents will be there and pretty much the whole family. There will be people who have helped me at every step along the way."

Tavares still doesn't profess to know which team will pick him or if it'll be at the coveted No. 1 selection. This draft looks like it will stay dramatic.

But he is certain who he'll be thinking about when it all goes down next Friday at the Bell Centre -- his late grandmother, Jozefa Kowal.

"My mom's mom," the 18-year-old OHL goal-scoring king said. "I remember after I was drafted into the OHL, my third game was in Sudbury (his mother Barb's hometown) but she never got the chance to see me play (Tavares scored that night, his fourth in what would end up a league record 215 career goals).

"My grandfather Boleslaw, too. I was told he was the kind of person who would've been to every practice and every game."

Four years ago, no one doubted Tavares's status as the top prospect for the 2009 NHL draft. But Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman and Brampton centre Matt Duchene were built up this season as potential challengers to that throne.

"The Islanders are laying low right now and I understand why because it's an important decision they have to make," Tavares said.

He enjoyed his Long Island visit last month. He has put to rest reports that he was -- or should be -- wary of the Isles organization.

"I wanted to clear that up because I don't believe that it's right to pick and choose where you go," the six-foot, 198-pounder said. "You should go to the team that drafts you. I respect the NHL and I'll be happy to go to whatever team picks me."

He was, in fact, relieved to be passed over in the recent Russian Kontinental Hockey League draft. Windsor Spitfires star and Memorial Cup MVP Taylor Hall, Hedman, Peterborough Pete Zack Kassian and Kingston's Erik Gudbranson were all picked.

"It would've just been one more thing everyone would've been talking about," he said.

There's no shortage of Tavares topics.

He opted out of Hockey Canada's national junior team summer camp.

"I've been there twice already and Hockey Canada realizes that players eligible to be picked by NHL teams will have to concentrate on those camps and commitments," he said. "The way I look at it, it gives someone else who's deserving of an invite a chance to go if I don't."

He didn't do pushups at the NHL draft combine in Toronto. That suggested his injured shoulder is still bothering him.

"It's not an issue at all," he said. "It's coming along. It won't be a problem and it doesn't affect me. It just took a while to get back to lifting. A couple of teams (of the 13 he interviewed with) asked about it but not everyone did."

He was interviewed by the Toronto Maple Leafs and asked a unique question: U.S. president Barack Obama, NHL pest Sean Avery and tennis star Maria Sharapova -- who would you want to dine with?

"I think I said Obama," Tavares said, "but there were so many questions and interviews. It's hard to remember."

He learned different teams have their own approaches. On his visit to Tampa, his Lightning tour mates included Hedman and Duchene.

"There were no one-on-ones," Tavares said. "We all went to dinner together. Their facilities were tremendous. It was nice to meet (co-owner) Oren Koules. He told us about the Hollywood stuff (he produces) like the Saw movies and (GM) Brian Lawton was great."

The top prospects also took in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final in Pittsburgh, which the Penguins won 4-2. At the morning skate, they taped a segment that ran on CBC's Coach's Corner with Don Cherry and also got to speak briefly to Sidney Crosby in the Pens' dressing room.

Tavares, Crosby and Pat Kane all share the same agent -- Pat Brisson.

"It was a big thrill to see a Stanley Cup game like that," Tavares said. "They brought us in to talk and meet the guys, but you don't have a lot of time to pick their brain."

No matter. Tavares and Crosby have talked before and will again.

Next week, Tavares will assume the same weight Crosby has carried so well on his shoulders: The hope of a down-and-out NHL franchise looking to one day hoist the Stanley Cup again.


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