John Tavares (born September 20, 1990) is a Canadian professional ice hockey centre for the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League (NHL). He was selected first overall by the Islanders in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Tavares then signed a three year entry-level contract in July 2009.
Previously, Tavares competed at the major junior level as a member of the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) before being traded to the London Knights at the 2009 OHL trading deadline with Michael Del Zotto. He broke into the OHL after gaining “exceptional player” status at the age of 14, allowing the Oshawa Generals to select him in the OHL Priority Draft as an underage player in 2005. Tavares was named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Rookie of the Year in 2006 and CHL Player of the Year in 2007, a year in which he broke Wayne Gretzky‘s OHL record of 70 goals in one season. In 2009, he finished the season with a career total of 215 goals, breaking Peter Lee’s OHL record by two.
Tavares was the focus of an unsuccessful push to have the NHL’s draft rules changed to allow him to participate in the 2008 Entry Draft, as well as an attempt to allow him to play in the American Hockey League as a 17-year-old in 2007. Tavares was ranked as the top prospect for the 2009 draft by both National Hockey League (NHL) Central Scouting and International Scouting Services.
Tavares has represented Canada at three International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) sanctioned events, winning gold medals at the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. He was named the most valuable player of the 2009 tournament after scoring eight goals and fifteen points in six games. He also participated in the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championships, but failed to medal. Additionally, Tavares represented Canada at the 2006 World U-17 Hockey Challenge and 2007 Super Series.
Tavares was born on September 20, 1990 in Mississauga, Ontario, to Barbara and Joe Tavares, who are of Polish and Portuguese descent, respectively. His maternal grandparents Bolesław and Josephine Kowal immigrated from Poland to Sudbury, Ontario, and his paternal grandparents Manuel and Dorotea Tavares immigrated from Portugal to Toronto, At a young age, Tavares moved to Oakville, Ontario. This is where he was first exposed to minor hockey via the Minor Oaks Hockey Association. Tavares also played soccer and lacrosse, and his highly competitive nature often led him to fight with other players. Tavares excelled at lacrosse, following in the footsteps of his uncle John Tavares, the all-time scoring leader in the National Lacrosse League (NLL), and was a ball boy for his uncle’s NLL team, the Buffalo Bandits. The younger Tavares credits his uncle with teaching him the importance of remaining unselfish, stating that what he learned by following his uncle with the Bandits has made him better both as a person and a hockey player. Many skills he learned in lacrosse—such as spinning off checks and battling in traffic—transferred to ice hockey and improved Tavares’ abilities as a goal scorer.
In Oakville, Tavares attended St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School. He lived five minutes from Sam Gagner, who later signed a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, and the two quickly established a friendship. Gagner’s father, former National Hockey League (NHL) player Dave Gagner, built a backyard ice rink on which Tavares spent much of his time honing ice hockey skills. In the OHL, Tavares placed an emphasis on his education, earning honours as well as the Oshawa Generals‘ Scholastic Player of the Year in 2007–08. Tavares also spends some of his time working with the Special Olympics.
Tavares began playing minor ice hockey with the Oakville Rangers of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA). He showed such promise as a hockey player that when he was seven, his parents moved him up one age group and he began playing with older children. From there, he moved on to the Mississauga Braves of the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL). After playing the 1998–99 season with the Braves’ novice team, Tavares moved to the Mississauga Senators of the GTHL the following season. With the Senators’ AAA minor atom team, Tavares won the GTHL minor atom championship in the 1999–2000 season. Tavares eventually moved to the Toronto Marlboros of the GTHL. During the 2003–04 season, Tavares scored 95 goals and 187 points in ninety games and led the Marlboros’ bantam team to the 2004 Bantam AAA Provincial Hockey Championships, where the Marlboros defeated the London Jr. Knights 5–0 in the championship game. Tavares scored one goal in the game and was named the tournament’s top forward. The following season, Tavares joined the Marlboros’ minor midget team, where he recorded 91 goals and 158 points in 72 games. For his achievements, Tavares shared the Buck Houle Award with Bryan Cameron (former LA Kings player), “in recognition of outstanding on ice performance, leadership and loyalty”. During this season, he also played 16 games with the Milton Icehawks of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League (OPJHL), during which he recorded 11 goals and 23 points. Tavares’ debut with the Icehawks came while he was only thirteen, making him one of the youngest players to ever play junior hockey.
Ontario Hockey League
Tavares petitioned to gain eligibility to play major junior in the OHL in the spring of 2005. As OHL rules did not allow for players under the age of 15 to be drafted, the league introduced an “exceptional player” clause, allowing the 14-year old Tavares to be drafted one year sooner than he would otherwise have been eligible. Consequently, Tavares is the youngest player to ever be drafted in the OHL, although Bobby Orr was signed and had played at a younger age. The Canadian Hockey League (CHL), the umbrella organization which governs major junior hockey in Canada, sent a proposal to Hockey Canada, recommending that the rule be expanded across junior hockey.
The Oshawa Generals held the first pick in the 2005 draft, and they selected Tavares, earning him the Jack Ferguson Award, which is given to the player picked first overall in the OHL Priority Selection. Tavares played his first OHL game on September 23, 2005, scoring his first OHL goal in a game held just three days after his 15th birthday. He showed he could play in the OHL immediately, scoring ten goals in his first nine games with the Generals, and finished the 2005–06 season with 77 points, including 45 goals. Tavares was named to the OHL’s all-rookie team, and won both the Emms Family Award and CHL Rookie of the Year awards as the top first-year player in both the OHL and CHL respectively.
As a 16-year old in 2006–07, Tavares was selected to represent the OHL for two games in January for the annual ADT Canada-Russia Challenge, including one game in Oshawa. Later that month, on January 25, 2007, Tavares registered a 7-point night in a 9-6 win versus the Windsor Spitfires. He scored four goals and three assists, including his 50th goal of the season in his 44th game. Towards the end of the season, on March 16, 2007, Tavares recorded his 70th and 71st goals of the season, breaking Wayne Gretzky‘s OHL record for most goals by a sixteen-year-old. He was awarded the Red Tilson Trophy as the most outstanding player in the league, and named the CHL Player of the Year.
Tavares scored 40 goals in 59 games for the Generals during the 2007–08 season, while his 118 points was placed him third in OHL scoring. Tavares led the OHL in scoring until he missed several games to participate with Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. As Tavares was participating in the 2009 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships, it was speculated that the Generals were ready to trade him to the London Knights. Tavares’ future with the Generals had been questioned since the beginning of the season as the Generals were not expected to seriously contend for the championship, whilst the Knights were among the league leaders. The deal was made official on January 8, 2009 as Oshawa sent Tavares, Michael Del Zotto and Darryl Borden to the Knights, in exchange for Scott Valentine, Christian Thomas, Michael Zador and six draft picks.
Tavares made his debut with the Knights on January 11 against the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. Making his return to Oshawa at the 2009 CHL Top Prospects Game as captain of Team Orr, he recorded an assist in a 6–1 win over Team Cherry, but injured his shoulder after Zack Kassian of the Peterborough Petes checked him behind the net. On March 8, 2009, Tavares set the OHL goal-scoring record with his 214th goal, passing the previous record held by Peter Lee. The next day, he received his third OHL Player of the Week recognition of the season.
National Hockey League
2009 NHL Draft
Although he was born five days after the September 15 cutoff date for eligibility in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, there was a significant effort made to allow Tavares into the draft. Following his 72-goal campaign in 2006–07, Tavares’ agents asked the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) to make an exception for Tavares similar to the one the OHL had made in 2005. The attempt was unsuccessful, and Tavares was forced to wait until 2009 to participate in the entry draft. However, in October 2007, it was reported that Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson, Jr. had offered the 17-year-old Tavares a spot with their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Toronto Marlies. Like the NHL, the AHL declined to amend its by-laws, and Tavares returned to the OHL.
The NHL International Scouting Services ranked Tavares as the top draft prospect in the world, ahead of defenceman Victor Hedman, Swedish forward Magnus Pääjärvi-Svensson, and Canadian forward Matt Duchene in its March 2009 update. The 2009 draft class was led by Tavares, who was taken first overall by the New York Islanders.
New York Islanders
On July 15, 2009, Tavares signed a three-year, entry-level contract with the New York Islanders. Tavares’ first NHL game was in the pre-season, against the Edmonton Oilers. Tavares spent 22 minutes and 50 seconds on the ice with linemates Doug Weight and Sean Bergenheim during the Islanders’ 3-2 loss. Weight, a veteran NHLer, said that “John’s going to be a big piece of [an Islander rebuilding effort].” Tavares recorded his first career NHL goal and assist in his first ever professional game, scoring on a backhander against Marc-André Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 3, 2009.
Tavares has led NHL rookies in scoring throughout much of his first season. In December, 2009, Tavares scored five consecutive Islander goals, over a 4-game span, to tie the club record for most consecutive goals by one player. Tavares scored an empty-net goal vs Atlanta on December 3, and both Islander goals on both December 9 in Philadelphia and December 10 in Toronto. The Islanders were shutout on December 5 in Tampa. The record was originally set by Bryan Trottier, when he scored five consecutive goals in a 1982 game against the Flyers, and was equaled by Mariusz Czerkawski over a three-game span in 1998.
During his rookie season in the OHL, Tavares competed for Team Ontario in the 2006 World U-17 Hockey Challenge in Saskatchewan as a fifteen-year-old, but failed to medal. Later that year, at the end of the 2005–06 OHL season, he was selected to join Team Canada‘s under-18 team for the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championships in Sweden, but failed to medal once more, falling to the Czechs in the bronze medal game. Later in the off-season, he was invited to the under-18 team’s summer training camp to prepare for the 2006 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, though an injury prevented him from playing.
During the following season, Tavares was invited to Canada’s national junior selection camp for the 2007 World Junior Championships, but was not named to the final team. After completing his second OHL season however, he was named to the Canada’s under-20 team for the 2007 Super Series against Russia. Tavares scored 4 goals and 1 assist as Canada won the series 7–0–1. He earned another invite to the selection camp for the 2008 World Junior Championships and made the final roster for the tournament on his second attempt. Tavares scored 4 goals to help Canada to its fourth straight gold medal. Returning the next year with Zach Boychuk, P. K. Subban and Thomas Hickey from the previous year’s gold medal winning team, Tavares was selected to compete in the 2009 World Junior Championships in Ottawa. He scored three points in the first round-robin game against the Czech Republic, an 8–1 win, and was named player of the game. In the final round-robin game against the United States, Tavares scored a hat trick for his twelfth career goal of the tournament to tie Eric Lindros and Jeff Carter for the all-time Canadian junior record. In doing so, he helped propel Team Canada to a 7–4 win that gave them the top spot in their pool, and a bye to the semi-final. He was also named player of the game for the second time in the tournament. Meeting Russia in the semi-final and down 5–4 with 5.4 seconds left in regulation, Tavares fought off 2 Russian players and directed a shot towards the goal that was blocked by defenseman Dmitri Kulikov a few feet in front of the net. However, the puck came loose, and centre Jordan Eberle retrieved it, and sent it into the right corner of the net to dramatically tie the game. Then, as the game was forced into a shootout, Tavares scored to put Canada up 2–0 in the tie-breaker and into the gold medal game against Sweden. Recording an assist in the final, he helped Canada defeat Sweden 5–1 to capture their fifth straight gold medal. Tavares finished the tournament with 8 goals and 7 assists for 15 points in 6 games, second to Cody Hodgson in tournament scoring. He was named one of the top three players on Team Canada by the coaching staff, as well as a tournament All-Star, Top Forward and MVP.
Tavares’ style has drawn comparisons to hockey legends Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe, as well as Wayne Gretzky, especially after breaking the latter’s OHL scoring record for a 16-year-old. A natural goal scorer, Tavares has been praised by his coaches for his ability to anticipate the play since he joined the OHL. A lack of speed is the most common criticism of Tavares’ play, something he has spent his junior career attempting to improve.
The media hype he has encountered has led Tavares to remain guarded when speaking to the media, while his teammates and family attempt to shield him from the spotlight where they can. However, Tavares is regarded as a natural leader on the ice, and a player who puts his team first. The Generals named Tavares their team captain in 2008, while he also served as the alternate captain with the national junior team in 2009.
- Major junior
|Jack Ferguson Award||2005|
|Emms Family Award||2006|
|CHL Rookie of the Year||2006|
|Red Tilson Trophy||2007|
|CHL Player of the Year||2007|
|World Junior All-Star Team||2009|
|World Junior Top Forward||2009|
|World Junior MVP||2009|