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Tavares: No hesitation to join the Islanders

by Brian Compton
PITTSBURGH -- Much has been written in recent months about John Tavares and why he should boycott Long Island should the New York Islanders select the 18-year-old with No. 1 selection in the 2009 Entry Draft, which will be held later this month in Montreal.

Time and time again, Tavares has stated that there will be no such boycott. If the Isles want him, he's theirs.

He reiterated that statement Tuesday morning at Mellon Arena, only hours before watching his first Stanley Cup Final game in person.

"Not many guys get that opportunity to be selected No. 1," Tavares said. "I'd love to go No. 1, but then again I'd love to go to any NHL team. I feel like I can contribute in a good way. If it happens, I'll be honored and very excited. But I'll be just as honored and excited if it doesn't happen."

Tavares recently met with Islanders brass on Long Island and said he came away impressed. While Isles owner Charles Wang still faces an uphill battle for a new/renovated Nassau Coliseum, Tavares was happy to get a first-hand look at some parts of Long Island -- including the rink that opened its doors 18 years before he was born.

At the meeting, though, Tavares wasn't assured that he would become an Islander on June 26. Highly touted Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman -- who is also here in Pittsburgh -- visited Long Island Monday. Matt Duchene also recently made a trip.

"I think they're keeping things low-key," said Tavares, who has an Ontario Hockey League record 215 goals. "They're trying to decide exactly what they want to do. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary. I got to meet a lot of people in the organization and I got to see the rink and a little bit of Long Island. I had breakfast with Doug Weight. It was a good experience for me and a good opportunity to check out Long Island and get to know (GM) Garth (Snow) a little bit, and Mr. Wang. I had a good time and we'll see what happens."

Should the Isles opt for Tavares, he would become part of a rebuilding process that already includes promising forwards Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey, and would almost certainly make the club out of training camp in September. New York had 13 selections in last year's draft and also holds the 26th, 31st and 37th picks later this month. While it's possible Snow could deal some of those selections on draft weekend for an established NHL player, there's little doubt either Tavares or Hedman -- or Duchene, a dark horse in this race -- will be an Islander in just over three weeks' time.

But at least one other GM is still willing to make a deal. Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke clearly would love to have Tavares call the Air Canada Centre home.

"We continue to try to move up," Burke said on Tuesday afternoon. "We haven't success so far. The two times that I have been successful making a deal happened on the (draft) floor. I'm not discouraged yet."

On Tuesday, Tavares made one thing perfectly clear -- he won't be discouraged if the Islanders call his name on June 26 at the Bell Centre. Perhaps it was on his visit when he learned there's much more to Long Island than Uniondale.

"It was a lot of fun," Tavares said of his trip. "I had a really good time and got to know them a lot more and what they're all about and their philosophy and see the way they do things. Long Island's a great city. Obviously, they've got a good organization and really have a good fan base when they have winning teams. They have a lot of tradition there from the Stanley Cups. I really enjoyed my time there."

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