-- It may only seem like John Tavares has been a household name for an eternity, but now that one of the most storied junior hockey careers has ended, Tavares is ready to start his journey into professional hockey.
Like all the other prospects who have gathered at the Westin Bristol Place for the 2009 NHL Scouting Combine, Tavares is meeting with teams and soon will go through medical, physical and psychological testing.
While most players see this as the first step into a new life, for Tavares, it's more like the culmination of four years of preparation.
"I can't believe it's been four years," Tavares told NHL.com. "There's been times where you think four years is a long time, but it's gone by pretty quick. I had so much fun playing junior in London, and Oshawa especially. I played with some great players, had some great teammates and now I get to go through this experience and be rewarded for 15, 16 years of hard work I've put into playing hockey."
Tavares first achieved attention as a 14-year-old, when he became the first player granted "exceptional player" status and was the first pick of the Ontario Hockey League draft a year ahead of his age group.
"Feels like yesterday I was getting the call and meeting Mr. John Davies, who was the owner in Oshawa at the time and the press conference in the Bobby Orr Lounge at the old (Oshawa) Civic Center," Tavares said. "It's been a long time, been a lot of ups and downs and things I've gone through, lot of things I learned."
He made his OHL debut three days after his 15th birthday, broke Wayne Gretzky's record by scoring 72 goals at age 16, and posted league-leading totals of 58 goals and 104 points this season, which he split between Oshawa and London. He finished his OHL career with a league-record 215 goals.
Tavares also won back-to-back World Junior Championship gold medals. At the 2009 event in Ottawa, he was second in the tournament in scoring with 15 points in six games and was named the competition's MVP and best forward. His 12 career WJC goals tie him with Eric Lindros and Jeff Carter for most career goals by a Canadian.
All that is in the past, however, and Tavares is focusing on the future. That starts with the combine. Tavares will interview with 19 teams during his stay in Toronto; while those interviews can be nerve-wracking, Tavares said he's enjoying meeting every one of his potential employers.
"When I was accepted into the OHL, the whole year no one was really scouting me or interviewing me because it wasn't my draft year yet," he said. "I was accepted (to the OHL) late, right before the draft, so I never got to go see the cities or meet the GMs or the scouts. So I get to experience that now and it's pretty cool."
It only looks to get cooler for Tavares, who almost certainly will be a top-two selection when the teams meet in Montreal June 26-27 for the 2009 Entry Draft. While rumors fly and speculation swirls about which team will take him and where, Tavares is comfortable enjoying the ride.
"It's an exciting time and I can't wait for draft day," he said. "I'm going to enjoy this time now because it's going to be a big change in my life. I'm very thankful for this opportunity I've been given."
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer