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Breaking News: Tavares traded to London

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com
John Tavares won World Junior gold in Ottawa last week. He hopes to add a Memorial Cup to trophy case in June.

To bolster that quest, Tavares was traded Thursday from the Oshawa Generals to the London Knights on the eve of the Ontario Hockey League trade deadline, which was noon Friday.

Along with Tavares, the Knights receive defenseman Michael Del Zotto, the New York Rangers' 2008 first-round pick who has 33 points in 34 games with the Generals this season, and backup goaltender Daryl Borden.

"We reached a point however where we had to decide if we were going to surround (Tavares and Del Zotto) at this stage of their careers with players that could win a championship," Oshawa coach/GM Chris DePiero told the team's Web site, "or allow John and Michael the opportunity to perhaps win a Memorial Cup. We obviously chose the latter."

In return, the Generals get forward Christian Thomas (son of former NHL star Steve Thomas), defenseman Scott Valentine and goaltender Michael Zador, the sixth-ranked goaltender in the OHL available for the 2009 Entry Draft, according to NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings. Also, Oshawa gets four second-round OHL draft picks and two third-round choices.

"We are excited about the young players we are bringing in and we are obviously pleased to have so many draft picks that we can use down the road to help us build into a team that can win a championship at a later date," DePiero said. "We wish John and Michael nothing but the best, and we thank them for everything they have done for this team and this community."

Tavares leaves Oshawa, a franchise that has existed since 1937, as the club's all-time leader with 183 goals. He's also second (to Boston Bruins center Marc Savard) on the Generals' all-time scoring list with 383 points, in just 223 games.

"I have mixed emotions right now -- it's a little bit of both (happy and sad)," said Tavares. "Obviously, I know I'm going to a very good organization and will have a chance to win, but I know I'm leaving a pretty good one, too."

Adding to the drama was the fact that Oshawa was scheduled to play at London on Friday. Tavares called it "highly unlikely" he would play for the Knights on Friday.

The Knights, perennially among the top teams in the OHL as well as the Canadian Hockey League, are in a pitched battle with the Windsor Spitfires for the best record in the OHL, as well as the top seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Entering the weekend, Windsor held a five-point lead on London.

"We thought we had a pretty good team here and we wanted to do what we felt it would take to win four (playoff) rounds," said London GM Mark Hunter. "We have some good players and talent on this team and that's why I felt I had to make this trade."

Windsor is the No. 2 team in this week's CHL top 10, while London is No. 6. Windsor previously had added to its title hopes by acquiring three players from the Kitchener Rangers -- top goaltender Josh Unice, high-scoring forward Scott Timmins and defenseman Ben Shutron, who had been the Rangers' captain.

London answered by acquiring the MVP of Canada's fifth straight World Junior Championship gold-medal run and the likely top pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. Tavares is expected to be the top-rated North American skater when NHL Central Scouting releases its midterm ratings Monday.

Oshawa made Tavares the first pick of the 2005 OHL draft when he was 14, after he became the first player on league history to obtain exceptional-player status. Tavares debuted with the Generals days before his 15th birthday and as a rookie scored 45 goals. He finished the season by winning the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year awards.

In his second season he scored 72 goals, breaking Wayne Gretzky's OHL record for goals by a 16-year-old. He finished with 134 points in 67 games and took home OHL and CHL player of the year honors. Last season he displayed his playmaking abilities, finishing with 78 assists and 118 points.

This season, despite missing time for the World Juniors, he's second in the league with 26 goals and 54 points in 38 games.

Scouts already high on Tavares took their praise to another level after his 8-goal, 15-point performance in six games at the World Juniors. He led the tournament in goals, finished second in points, made the tournament All-Star team and was named the tourney's best forward.

In addition, Tavares served as an alternate captain for Canada, and was captain in Oshawa this season. Tavares has not shirked from the leadership duties.

DePiero related a story from Generals training camp this summer, when Tavares organized a team outing to Rogers Centre for a Blue Jays game.

"I get a call from the Blue Jays and they asked if he (Tavares) could throw out the first pitch, and John's reaction was, 'Can my teammates come on the field?'" DePiero previously told NHL.com. "If they had more lead time and it was more of a planned thing they could have, but that was his first reaction. In my mind, that speaks to where he's at and where he wants to be."

NHL talent scouts have noticed the goals, but now they're seeing much more. In addition to the points, Tavares finished second at the WJC in faceoff percentage, he has a plus-5 rating in the OHL and was a plus-7 at the WJC. He also leads the OHL with 5 shorthanded goals.

"He scored so many goals that people overlook the fact that he can also make great plays," St. Louis Blues Director of Amateur Scouting Jarmo Kekalainen told NHL.com. "He's got great instincts and vision and understanding of the game. I've always thought he scores goals many different ways. His focus is on the puck in front of the net. I don't think I'm spilling any secrets saying he's a great goal scorer, but he's worked hard here, been a leader on the team. Those are the things that you're looking for, the character part, the leadership part."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.




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