TORONTO -- John Tavares was named captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs before the season opener against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
The center, who started his second season with Toronto after signing as a free agent July 1, 2018, was captain of the New York Islanders for five seasons (2013-18). The Maple Leafs had not had a captain since defenseman Dion Phaneuf was traded to the Senators on Feb. 9, 2016.
The Maple Leafs let Tavares know Monday, suprising him with his infant son Jace wearing a jersey including the captain's letter C on it.
"I'll never forget that moment," Tavares said. "It's been an amazing three weeks. To see [Jace] there with [the jersey] on, to be the one to tell me, was very emotional and really, really special."
Tavares grew up a Maple Leafs fan in Mississauga, Ontario, about 17 miles west of Toronto, and had an NHL career-high 88 points (47 goals, 41 assists) in 82 games last season.
"He's the kind of man and he's the kind of leader, he's the kind of person that our guys look up to and does everything right every day," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "He's all about winning, he's not about John, he's about winning. He's a great example to all of us. When I ask him a question he doesn't think, 'Is this good for John?' He thinks, 'Is this is good for the team?' He's a man. So, I think it's great."
Mitchell Marner, Auston Matthews and Morgan Rielly were named alternate captains. They were announced following the pregame introductions of their teammates, and Tavares was announced last, entering the ice to a standing ovation.
"[I was] just excited to experience the moment and get out there and everyone hearing it for the first time, and just the way the organization did it," Tavares said. "From how I found out, like I said, to the last couple days, just preparing. It certainly was nice to get it out there, and I think the way we did it was really special. A great way to do it, and to follow it up with the way we played just made it that much better."
Rielly will be an alternate captain for every game; Matthews and Marner will be an alternate on a game-to-game basis.
"I think all four of us look at it as a big honor, big responsibility," Matthews said. "So, I think, like we've been saying all along, there's lots of leaders in this room. We're just the guys that are wearing the letters."
Tavares was asked questions relating to the captaincy throughout training camp and his answer always had the same theme: It would be a privilege to be the captain of the Maple Leafs, like Doug Gilmour, Wendel Clark and Darryl Sittler.
The 29-year-old is the 25th captain in Toronto history.
"Johnny's the perfect guy for the job," said Rielly, who reportedly was considered a candidate. "You know we've talked about it, a poised, confident person who carries himself like a true professional and comes to work every day. Like I said, the perfect guy for it."
Toronto defeated Ottawa 5-3; Tavares had one assist.
Five NHL teams do not have a captain: the Detroit Red Wings, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights.