John Tavares is possibly the most highly touted and anticipated player not currently in the NHL. He’s been dubbed the next Sidney Crosby, an iron lock for first pick overall and the kind of player that can immediately change the fortunes of a team. The catch? He’s only 17 years old which wouldn’t be a problem if he had been born 5 days too late.
Tavares is the rare breed of athlete who’s been scouted since he was in his pre-teens. He’s spent most of his “career” playing against opponents who were at least one year older than him at every level. In fact, the OHL constructed a clause in their rules specifically for John Tavares. At age 14, Tavares was much younger than the 16 year old age limit enforced by the league. However, he’d proven that he could not only play at that level but succeed so the OHL added a new rule that allowed them to grant “exceptional player status” to anyone they deemed was too young by years but too remarkable to hold out of the draft. Tavares was obviously the first player to receive this honor and was drafted first overall a couple of months before his 15th birthday in 2005.
John Tavares did not disappoint as he put up 77 points, including 45 goals, in his first OHL season where he earned the Rookie of the Year honors. The best, of course, was yet to come as the following year he would set a new record previously held by the great Wayne Gretzky when he scored 72 goals in only 67 games. He also added 62 assists that season and was given the Player of the Year award for his efforts. He followed that up by competing in the 2008 World Junior Championships and helping lead team Canada to their fourth straight gold medal.
So now Tavares is looking towards his next challenge the NHL. Unfortunately, he’s going to have to wait a little longer as the NHL rules state that a player must be 18 as of September 15th, five days prior to when Tavares’ 18th birthday. Tavares and his team of agents have pleaded with the NHL to modify the rule or do something similar to that of the OHL. The NHL hasn’t budged and it appears that we’ll have to wait another year before we see Tavares in a NHL uniform. That, of course, hasn’t stopped some clever GMs from trying to get the inside track on the young superstar-to-be. John Ferguson of the Toronto Maple Leafs went as far as offering Tavares a contract to play for the Leafs’ AHL affiliate the Toronto Marlies. The idea would be that Tavares could sign a one year deal and then enter the draft, or possibly sign a longer term contract with the team, bypass the draft and be an unrestricted free agent when it expired. Either path might give the Leafs an advantage when it comes to securing the rights to Tavares but it’s a long shot at best. The primary issue is that the AHL has the exact same rule regarding age so unless they intend to modify that rule, unlike their NHL counterpart, it seems unlikely that anything will come of this and Tavares will be taken first overall in the 2009 entry draft.
The truth of the matter is that a guy like John Tavares is ready to move forward and face tougher competition. In fact, he probably needs it in order to continue developing but in retrospect it seems that the exceptional player rule for the OHL may have done him a disservice. Allowing him to enter early assures that he’ll spend 4 years in the OHL as opposed to the usual 2. A long stay like that is great for the OHL but it’s not so great for the player who’s eager to move on. My instincts tell me that we still haven’t quite heard the end of this and it’ll flare up again as we near the draft but in the meantime, it’s an interesting and yet quiet story for a league that is desperately in need some headline drama that doesn’t revolve around players trying to kill each other.