July 31, 2008
"People have been telling me I'll be No. 1 for a long time and expectations grow ... I've been playing in the (OHL) for three years now and people start to pick my game apart a little more and more, but I think it helps me improve my game where I need to." - John Tavares, Ottawa Sun, July 28, 2008.
To say John Tavares hasn't been the consensus No. 1 selection for next year's draft would be like saying "The Dark Knight" has received mixed reviews. Like Sidney Crosby and Eric Lindros before him, he's inspired his own derby of teams whose lack of success could land them a franchise player; from the Florida Panthers to the St. Louis Blues to the New York Islanders. Hell, even Vancouver Canucks fans were wondering if their team should tank for Tavares.
Of course, pre-draft hype and being ordained as "The Next One" mean nothing if the player isn't as good as his headlines. For examples, this probably wasn't the first fan page for Alexandre Daigle -- but it may have been the last.
So the question becomes: Is Lance Hornby's near-blasphemous article in today's Toronto Sun about scouts being down on Tavares, and his No. 1 position being in jeopardy, reasonable backlash or the beginning of his Phil Kessel descent in next year's draft?
His third OHL campaign with the Oshawa Generals saw his goal total reduced from 72 to 40, though his 118 points in eight fewer games than 2006-07 was not a significant drop. "I would say he let up last year, that he wasn't as intense," one scout said. "The passion to score when he goes from the blueline in wasn't as great, but he's still an elite athlete.
There's an alternative view of Tavares's stats from Matt Bugg over at Dobber Hockey, who noted last year that "eight of the Top 15 in All-Time NHL goals and ten of the greatest scorers the NHL has ever seen were not junior league leaders at John Tavares' age or older. With that in mind, let's just sit back and enjoy the show."
Back to the Sun, which delves into potential off-ice issues with Tavares:
Another scout said Tavares' dumping of Siskinds Sports Management and primary agent Bryan Deasley last season for the higher profile Creative Artists Agency "raised some red flags" among NHL teams. But the same scout said it was too early to think Tavares could not retain Central Scouting's top perch by June. "Maybe he got stale last year, but this is a big year coming up for him," said the scout.
First off, if the move to CAA raised "red flags" around the NHL, what would have happened if Tavares had kept his interim agent, a.k.a. Mom, as his handler? Insiders would have labeled this kid a draft gamble faster than you could say "Bonnie Lindros."
That said, it remains a critical year on the ice for Tavares. This is a whole different level of pressure on the kid. He's like an A-plus student at a prep school who needs to maintain that average while he enchants Ivy League recruiters.
It's hard to believe Tavares won't still be the first player drafted next summer, especially if the Leafs somehow land the top pick. (And by "somehow," we mean "retire, Mats.") But he's clearly on notice now from the NHL's draft-watchers.
If there's one thing the League knows how to market correctly, it's a super-rookie, so here's hoping Tavares goes No. 1. And besides, he gives a decent interview...even if the questioner is wearing an athletic tape mustache: