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John Tavares hopes for helping hand into NHL entry draft a year early

NHL.com @NHL

(CP) - John Tavares feels left behind.

When the Canadian junior hockey team concludes its eight-game Super Series against Russia on Sunday in Vancouver, several of his teammates will head to the first NHL training camps of their careers.

It'll be two years before Tavares experiences the same, unless his request to the NHL and the NHL Players' Association to allow him entry into the 2008 draft is granted.

The 16-year-old from Oakville, Ont., was born five days too late - Sept. 20, 1990 - to be drafted next year. Players who turn 18 before Sept. 15, 2008, are eligible.

Tavares hears his freshly drafted Canadian teammates talk about their upcoming camps, but he can't share in their excitement.

"I'm seeing all my peers get drafted and get experience at NHL camps and learning and getting better," he said. "For me, I've still got to wait two years with players who haven't yet played a game in the OHL or the CHL yet.

"Being drafted with a lot of these guys into the CHL and seeing them moving on, learning and growing and getting experience with NHL teams and pro teams, it's tough on me sometimes to watch and wait."

Tavares's agent, Bryan Deasley, says he has spoken with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and Players' Association associate counsels Ian Penny and Stu Grimson about the possible creation of an exceptional player clause that would allow certain players to be drafted a year early.

Deasley said he has sent a memo to each party about the merits of a clause. He says he's not asking for a blanket change in the draft age.

"We are not looking for anything other than an exceptional status consideration from the league," he said. "Every once in a while a player comes along that compels us to look at things more clearly and differently - outside the box."

Tavares was the first 15-year-old to play in the Ontario Hockey League under an exceptional-player clause and he won the Canadian Hockey League's top rookie award that year.

Last season, the Oshawa Generals forward was named the CHL's most valuable player after scoring 72 goals, which is more than Wayne Gretzky scored at age 16.

His 134 points was second only to Patrick Kane's 145 in the CHL scoring race. Kane was the No. 1 pick by Chicago in June's draft.

But draft eligibility is part of the collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and the Players' Association and any changes would have to be negotiated between the two.

"No changes to our eligibility rules are being considered at this point in time," Daly said in an e-mail.

"The NHLPA is currently reviewing all aspects of this matter and will make a decision about whether to pursue this further upon completion of our review," the PA said in a statement.

On the ice, the six-foot, 196-pound Tavares is trying to build a case that he deserves the chance to be drafted next year.

He's currently playing in the Super Series with the cream of Canadian players born in 1988 and 1989 and wants to excel among elite players two and three years old than him.

"I think I need to have a big start and play well through out the year (to show) that I deserve to be drafted and deserve the opportunity," Tavares said.

Canada leads the Super Series 4-0 heading into Tuesday's Game 5 in Winnipeg (8 p.m. ET) after sweeping the games in Russia. The team was scheduled to arrive in Winnipeg from Toronto on Monday.

Tavares is playing the wing on Canada's second line. He had two assists in the first three games, but was frustrated at his inability to score.

He's given a long leash to be offensively creative in Oshawa, so adjusting to the strict defence-first philosophy of Canadian head coach Brent Sutter has been difficult for him at times.

Tavares broke through with his first goal of the series in Game 4 - a second-period power-play goal - and he was visibly relieved to get it. He also had a team-high six shots in the game.

"I am really just trying to play as hard as I can and do everything right and not let me trying to score a goal be the downfall of the rest of my game," he said. "It's a new role and I definitely have to make sure I'm playing well in all three zones if I want to keep playing.

"I'm glad I've got some confidence going back home."

Tavares says he wouldn't expect to immediately make an NHL team's lineup if he was drafted in 2008, but desperately wants to go to their summer and fall rookie camps and main training camp to get that experience.

He's not worried about getting stale, but about his development stalling.

"I don't think I'm going to be bored any time I'm playing hockey in my life," he said. "That's what I love to do. Obviously I want to be challenged and that's the big issue."

Deasley is waiting to see what the league and the PA will do on this matter. He says if his client's development plateaus in major junior hockey, then Tavares may have to find a more challenging environment until he is drafted into the NHL.

"If he's in the Canadian Hockey League this year and the (NHL) doesn't want to consider this exceptional status, and he scores 100 goals, we've got to look at the protection of our client's development," Deasley said. "Otherwise, he comes to the league and he's not equipped to meet the expectations he's set for himself.

"That's why we would look at other options, being Europe, if we feel that and we see that his development is not progressing to the point where it should be."

Deasley says he is not currently arguing the monetary aspect of Tavares having to wait until 2009 to be drafted but acknowledged that "it's a significant consideration."

"At some point I have to say it's my fiduciary duty to John to help him earn a living," he said.

Top-of-the-line rookies can earn almost $3 million a year in salary and bonuses on a three-year entry contract.

"Players drafted this year will have two years of income in the NHL if they play and they'll be two years closer to free agency," he said. "At some point we have to say this is millions of dollars not attainable because of a five-day arbitrary deadline."

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