Leafs landing Tavares unlikely

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Brian Burke stood a few feet away from John Tavares at yesterday’s NHL scouting combine, watching him jump, cycle and get his miniscule body fat pinched.

But it’s about as close as the Maple Leafs general manager will likely come to his dream of prying Tavares away from the New York Islanders. Thirteen teams, including the Leafs, interviewed the London Knights/Team Canada star anyway.

Sure, Burke has vowed to move up from seventh in the draft to try and get Tavares to his boyhood club, while Tampa Lightning general manager Brian Lawton, who holds the second pick, will at least listen to offers from any team. But fantasy will become reality on June 26 in Montreal.

“We can’t march to the beat of someone else’s drum,” Lawton said at an airport hotel as the 30 teams began evaluating 104 top draft prospects. “We’ll look at all our options, but my clear intention is the way you build a strong team is to hold on to your draft picks. No one enjoys how we got here (last overall), but now that we’re here, everyone is perking up about the opportunity we have.

“We started last year with (first overall) Steven Stamkos and there was an uproar about how poor he was doing. But I think everyone in this room would acknowledge now that he did fantastic. There are different time lines and different ways to get to Rome.”

Burke, who would settle for a low-risk trade to climb slightly higher in the draft, perhaps to unite forward Brayden Schenn with Leaf brother Luke, said he’s getting a cool reception to his trade talk thus far.

“I have no progress to report, but I didn’t think I would this early. The two times I (moved up), it was on the draft day floor and we still have a month to go.”

One more day of being poked and prodded and subjected to a barrage of left field psyche test queries had Tavares joking there can’t be anything about him people don’t know after four years of the junior spotlight. The issue of him losing the top honour to big Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman has also been answered and even Hedman came away from their first off-ice meeting on Thursday impressed at how “down to earth” the Mississauga native is.

“I thought I did well (in yesterday’s demanding physical testing), but there is always room for improvement,” said Tavares, who skipped the bench press to rest his injured shoulder.

The hardest part of the day might have been the curveball questions he and other prospects endured.

Schenn was asked to choose whether he’d take a pill that would make him a Stanley Cup champion MVP versus a short life span. Evander Kane had to demonstrate his goal celebration. American collegiate forward Jordan Schroeder had to pick one dinner guest from Barack Obama, tennis queen Maria Sharapova and Sean Avery.

“I’d like to have picked Sharapova because of her good looks, but I went with the logical answer of Avery,” the 5-foot-8 Schroeder said. “Not just because he’s the hockey player, but because I want to know how he views things. He has a mental edge to him that I like, that I need to add to my game.”

NOTES: Burke repeated his vow yesterday to spend on free agents, right up to the cap if need be. “We’re Big Blue, we intend to be pushing the cap every year, spending the money intelligently.”...Negotiations with the Leafs and free-agent Swedish netminder Jonas Gustavsson will pick up next week after the funeral for Gustavsson’s mother and the start of a tour of his potential NHL cities.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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