At a time when the John Tavares – Victor Hedman debate seemed to be reaching it’s lowest ebb, with the New York Islanders, confirmed as the winners of the first-overall-pick sweepstakes by last week’s draft lottery, seemingly cocksure takers on the London Knight, the Redline Report has stoked the embers. According to News Day.com, the Red Line Report, a highly-respected independent scouting service run by former Nashville Predators scout Kyle Woodlief (link), has bumped JT down to the third rank in their latest installment of standings, behind Victor Hedman and Brampton Battalion speedster Matt Duchene.
Brian Burke bribery jokes aside, Woodlief’s rather acerbic reasoning for the demotion is what’s so intriguing here:
“I’ve always felt Hedman should be the No. 1 pick. The reason we flip-flopped Duchene and Tavares is due to the fact Tavares’ effort level has been underwhelming through the first two rounds of the [Ontario Hockey League] playoffs. Tavares may score 40 or 50 goals a season, but he’s one-dimensional. If he’s not scoring, he’s not helping. Right now, he’s the third-best draft-eligible forward on his own team behind Nazem Kadri and Phil Varone. Tavares (9-10-19) and Varone (10-8-18) have about the same number of points, but Varone is plus-16, and Tavares is even. London has a great power play, and Tavares is getting all his points on the power play. Five-on-five, Tavares has been nothing short of a liability. His attitude of entitlement stinks.”
Firstly, it’s rather refreshing to hear a pundit have the balls to jump off the hype train and state boldly what is – and has been for some time in my opinion – a very legitimate concern with JT. There have been a few trepidations about his off play (by his standards) during the playoffs this season, but to suggest JT has a foul sense of entitlement is truly bold. And to some extent deserved.
You can’t be heralded as the next Great One since your early adolescence and not to some extent allow it to get to your head. Perhaps playing in junior since the age of 15 can also somewhat mitigate Tavares’ complacency now that he’s edging closer to his shot at the big leagues. But this playoff also comprises Tavares’ last shot at capturing a Memorial Cup before he graduates, and to hear talk of lazy and apathetic play during his team’s championship quest is alarming.
As a casual OHL observer, what Woodlief’s describing rings a lot of bells. Not that previous megastars didn’t receive the same treatment, but Tavares is often the beneficiary of double shifted powerplay opportunity during which he lingers around the net while his teammates go out of their way to feed him the puck. He’s also typically the last man back, and it’s no secret his skating still leaves something to be desired (how will this show at the NHL level?). He’s an absolute magician with the puck and a world-class finisher, no doubt, but concerns about a potential one-dimensional player in the making here are more than justified. Tavares’ ’08/’09 season, if you forget the World Junior Championships, has been nothing short of a letdown.
That said, at the WJCs, Tavares elevated his game on the world stage and was absolutely brilliant. When there’s something Tavares deems worth fighting for, he’s all but unstoppable. For that reason, I have little doubt Tavares will earn his way onto the NYI roster next season, but the worry here is about Tavares’ potential for complacency once he enters the thick of his career.
Tavares’ profile just screams of Jason Spezza to me. Spezza, similarly blessed with profuse skill and unlimited potential, stormed onto the NHL scence with a great rookie season. Since, the Mississauga native has leveled out in terms of production. Once the Senators’ woes started after their Cup run fell short in ’07, rumblings have persisted that Spezza’s practically uncoachable. Shortly after his firing, former head coach Craig Hartsburg’s biting words about the incorrigibility of a few members of his dressing room certainly seemed to be sent in Spezza’s direction.
There haven’t been similar complaints voiced by any of Tavares’ coaches, past or present, but I’m interested to see if any friction occurs once a big league bench boss doesn’t give JT the run-of-the-coop luxury he’s enjoyed at the junior level.
Obviously, I could be totally off base here. JT’s endured a long junior campaign, and as soon as he finally reaches the NHL stage he may never look back en route to becoming the best of his generation. At the WJCs, he certainly exhibited the game-breaker quality NHL coaches and GMs salivate over. But it’s something for Brian Burke to consider while he conjures up pricey schemes to take over first in the draft order.