We catch up with John Tavares after his record-setting night in OHL

March, 9, 2009

Checklists are a useful tool for people like us who can't seem to remember the most mundane tasks in life.

But there's nothing mundane about John Tavares' checklist this year:

1. Win world junior gold medal. Check.
2. Score 50-plus goals and amass 100-plus points this season in the Ontario Hockey League. Check.
3. Win the OHL scoring championship. Pretty much a check (15-point lead with one week left in regular season).
4. Break OHL goal-scoring record. Check.
5. Win OHL and Memorial Cup championship with the London Knights. TBD.
6. Go first overall in the June NHL draft. TBD (but we're pretty damn sure).

"It's been great so far this year, but I hope I'm not finished because I want to win a championship here," Tavares told ESPN.com on Monday. "That's what I came to London to do. We have a great team."

It was our first interview with the young prodigy. And we're impressed. The articulate Tavares tried to give thoughtful answers, and not the prototypical 19-year-old stuff (we can't imagine how we sounded at 19, but we know we had a mullet).

But while he tried to answer every question as best he could, he invariably wrapped up almost every thought with his clear desire to win an OHL championship with the Knights.

"I'm focused on what's ahead because I'm looking forward to what will hopefully be a long playoff run," he said.

The media glare was on Tavares again Monday, a day after he became the all-time goal-scoring leader in the OHL, breaking Peter Lee's record of 213 goals from the early 1970s. He did a number of media interviews Monday, but the Canadian is already used to the immense attention he's generated in his native country, and soon the United States.

"It's something I've been getting more accustomed to since I was 14," said Tavares. "Obviously, it's getting more and more as we get closer to the draft. But it's something I've prepared for and it's something I'm excited about as well."

When the season started, there was serious debate as to whether Tavares or talented Swedish blueliner Victor Hedman would go No. 1 in June. There's not as much debate now. Even though there are still scouts who say Hedman will be a huge stud on defense (think Chris Pronger but more polished at 18), Tavares has had such a monster season and his development has taken such a giant leap that almost everyone connected to scouting believes he'll go No. 1.

"Obviously I've wanted to play well and do the best I can," Tavares said. "If I go No. 1, it's certainly going to be a great moment just because only a select few go through that experience and accomplish that. But it hasn't happened yet and I'm not going to take anything for granted."

Tavares had his critics last season, when he dipped to 40 goals from the 72 he scored the previous campaign. He has silenced most of those critics this season.

"I'm growing more as a hockey player and as a person," said the native of Oakville (just outside Toronto). "Just things like last summer, I started to learn more about having better habits and getting proper rest, eating well, keeping my body strong throughout the season. I still got a lot to learn, but I'm excited."

Tavares met with a scout from the Atlanta Thrashers on Monday. Last week, he met with a scout from the New York Islanders. Those are two potential draft-lottery winners. The Tampa Bay Lightning are another strong possibility and they'll definitely meet up with Tavares at some point over the next few weeks. Between five to eight NHL teams are expected to reach out to him.

"Once you start meeting with people from organizations in the National Hockey League, it definitely gets you excited," Tavares said. "You really start to get the feeling of the idea that you're going to be part of the National Hockey League very soon. I grew up watching these players, and pretty soon, I'll be getting experience at camp with guys I looked up to. It's going to be great. I'm very excited, but I don't want to look too far ahead. I still got a main goal here in London and that's to win a championship."

One rumor that floated around the business over the past few months, and it turns out to be an ill-founded rumor, was Tavares would have some reluctance to go to Long Island. But Tavares absolutely nipped those rumors in the bud.

"It's not true at all," Tavares said. "Wherever I'm selected, 100 percent I'm going to be going there. If it is the New York Islanders, of course I'm going to go. I think they've got a lot of good prospects and there's some good things happening there. Obviously, they're looking to get a new arena, which is always exciting. And it's a team with great tradition and history."

Great to hear.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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