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Say uncle? John Tavares eager to make name in NHL

NHL.com @NHL

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario (AP) -With the scoring records, world junior hockey titles, MVP awards and dinners with wealthy team owners behind him, John Tavares is growing antsy waiting for the NHL draft.

What better way to ease those nerves than some good-natured ribbing from ... John Tavares. No, he's not talking to himself. This John Tavares is his uncle and professional lacrosse's most prolific goal scorer.

"OK, here we go," the younger Tavares says, rolling his eyes and laughing.

He has heard many times how he has never beaten his uncle in any sport - hockey, lacrosse, golf - and the comments always amuse him.

"I don't know why he does that, because I was 8 years old when we used to play," the 18-year-old Tavares says. "I hope he was beating me when I was 8. But he's always been like that, always saying I can never beat him."

It's playful banter between two close family members.

Yet there's a motivational intent behind his uncle's message, one Tavares appreciates as a top prospect in the NHL draft in Montreal on Friday.

For all he has accomplished by being the youngest player - he was 16 - to break into the Ontario Hockey League, where he scored a league-record 215 career goals, he's not his family's most celebrated athlete.

"He's very special at what he does," Tavares says, referring to his 40-year-old uncle, who just completed his 18th season with the Buffalo Bandits and holds the National Lacrosse League records for goals (671), assists (749) and points (1,420). "It's pretty cool for me and him to have done some pretty significant things so far. I mean, he's done a lot more than I have."

But the professional sports world is about to welcome another hot-scoring Tavares.

The New York Islanders own the No. 1 pick, followed by Tampa Bay. Tavares has dined with both team's owners, and stayed overnight at the home of Islanders' general manager Garth Snow during a visit to Long Island.

NHL Central Scouting ranks Tavares as its top prospect after he notched his fourth-straight 40-goal season and led the OHL with 104 points (58 goals, 46 assists) in 56 games. Overall, he has 215 goals and 218 assists for 433 points in four seasons.

"He can be the best," Central Scouting director E.J. McGuire says. "He's a pure goal scorer."

McGuire said an argument could be made that Tavares would've have been rated the top prospect in last year's draft had he been old enough, but his birthday was five days too late.

"It might have been a coin flip of 1-2," McGuire says, comparing Tavares to Steven Stamkos, who was the top pick last year by Tampa Bay.

Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman is the top-ranked European prospect this year, while OHL forward Matt Duchene rounds out what is projected to be the first three selections.

Tavares' uncle saw his nephew's potential years ago when he was helping host a lacrosse camp and brought along the youngster, then 4. Within three practices, the boy was holding his own against kids two and three years older.

As proud as he is, uncle John tempers his praise.

"I want him to be successful in the NHL. But he hasn't gotten there yet. It sounds harsh, but that's fine," Tavares says. "He's a good kid. He's got a good head on his shoulders. ... But this is a bigger spectrum now, so hopefully, he maintains his composure."

The younger Tavares understands the message, having followed his uncle - the youngster served as the Bandits ball boy - and watched how he handled himself as a top athlete in his sport.

"It's not only how he played the game, but the way he interacted with his teammates, the leadership, his work ethic," the younger Tavares says. "I don't think I even realized at the time the impact he had on me."

Listed at 6-feet and 200 pounds, Tavares helped Canada win two world junior championships. In January, he was named the tournament's MVP after scoring eight goals in seven games.

His most memorable goal came during a 7-0 win over Slovakia. Set up at the right post, Tavares got off his initial shot only to have the puck jump into the air and flutter behind the net. Without hesitation, Tavares tapped the puck in midair toward the front of the net and then batted it in before it hit the ice.

It's a play he works on in practice, and Tavares credited lacrosse for helping improve his hand-eye coordination.

"Yeah, you should ask my uncle if he can do that!" he says, scoring a point for the younger generation.

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