Don't cry for Varone

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

The NHL draft drama isn't just about John Tavares vs. Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene for the No. 1 overall selection tomorrow night.

It's also London Knights forward Phil Varone glued to the TV set at home in Vaughan -- wondering, wishing, worrying -- if and when he'll get picked on Saturday.

"My parents are probably going to be downstairs praying the rosary," Varone, 18, said yesterday. "Whether or not I get picked, it's going to be emotional. That's the way we are as a family. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and it'll always be that way.

"I dreamed about this day all my life. I've worked towards it and I don't know what's going to happen. I've talked to some of the teams and . . . some contacted my agent.

"I decided to stay at home for it. But of course, I'll be watching. How could you not?"

Throughout this OHL season, Varone wasn't ashamed to admit he would shed tears if an NHL team called his name in Montreal this weekend.

He has prepped himself for either result.

"When I was drafted to the OHL, I went in the fourth round (to Kitchener) and you always feel you should've went higher," he said. "But whether or not I go this time, I hope I get an invite to an NHL camp. All I want is an opportunity.

"I'll be thinking about my dad. He's smaller than I am and just to hear what he had to go through, not just in sports but in life in general, it's an inspiration to me.

"He always told me it doesn't matter where you are at 16 or 18. It matters where you are when you're 21, 22."

Varone is a head-scratching case.

After a rough start physically and statistically, the five-foot, 186-pounder was still ranked 90th in NHL Central Scouting's midterm report. He had a sensational three playoff rounds this spring but plunged to 172nd in the final rankings.

"I wish I had a better season," he said. "I wasn't scoring at the start of the year. I was getting six chances a game and not burying them. Then, I had an injury. In the second half, my time on the power play decreased but when you bring in guys the calibre of John Tavares and John Carlson, there's not much you can do. Obviously, they're tremendous players.

"So you try to make the most of five-on-five or the penalty kill and do what you can there."

In the playoffs, Varone tied Tavares for the team high with 10 goals. He had 19 points, was plus-17 in 13 games and scored London's lone overtime winner in the Western Conference final against Windsor.

"Right spot, right time," he said. "That's all that was."

Varone formed a magical forward trio with Nazem Kadri, who will be picked in the first round tomorrow, and Daniel Erlich, who is also eligible on draft day.

"We had some success early in the playoffs and Dale (head coach Hunter) isn't afraid to go back to a line that's working," Varone said. "We weren't able to play much together against Windsor. Daniel, I'm really rooting for him to get picked. He's a smaller guy but he beat the odds by making it to the OHL and playing the way he has."

Varone has been busy this offseason. He skates or works out nearly every day.

He didn't attend the draft combine in Toronto but had a series of interviews with teams there. He went to Montreal to skate at a pre-draft mini-camp.

"They put you in a five-star hotel there," he said. "It was first-class all the way. A great experience."

The Knights brass and Tavres left yesterday for the draft.

Varone can't wait to watch what happens.

"You're nervous, you just want it to be over so you know how it plays out," he said. "I'm really rooting for Johnny (Tavares). When you're in the spotlight from age 14 like that, people start nit-picking your game but I can't see them (the Islanders) not taking him first. I hope he goes first overall because he deserves it.

"And Naz (Kadri), there was talk for a while he might drop, that he's a high-risk, high-reward kind of player, but no one competes like him."


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