LONDON, Ont. — John Taveres says his heart will always be in Oshawa, but he won’t be finishing his stellar Ontario Hockey League career there.
The London Knights made a huge splash on the eve of the Ontario Hockey League trade deadline Thursday, acquiring Tavares from the Oshawa Generals, the team he’s played spectacularly for since entering the league.
A deal for Tavares before the OHL’s trade deadline had long been rumoured, and the possibility seemed even greater after the world junior hockey championship ended. His already lofty stock soared even higher after he helped Canada win its fifth straight gold medal at the tournament, where he was named tournament MVP after putting up 15 points.
Tavares had to waive a no-trade clause for the deal to be made. When he returned to Toronto from the world junior tournament on Tuesday, he was asked about the possibility of being dealt to another club.
"Oshawa’s been my home for three-and-a-half years and my heart will always be there," Tavares said. "No matter whether I get moved or not, it’s been a big part of my life and a stepping stone in my career and they gave me the opportunity to play hockey in the OHL.
"I’m very thankful for that."
Five other players and six draft picks were also exchanged.
Defenceman Michael Del Zotto and goaltender Daryl Borden were also dealt to London in exchange for forward Christian Thomas, defenceman Scott Valentine, goaltender Michael Zador, along with the six draft picks — London’s four second-round picks for the next four years, and the Knights third round picks in both 2010 and 2011.
"In the end it became obvious to us that it made more sense for Oshawa to move John to another team," Tavares’s agent Pat Brisson told The Canadian Press. "We are glad that it was done in a professional manner by (Generals GM and coach) Chris DePiero.
"After being in Oshawa for three-and-a-half years, it’s not an easy departure for John."
It’s not known when he will make his Knights debut, but Tavares could face his former Oshawa teammates as London hosts the Generals on Friday.
Tavares is favoured to be chosen first overall in the 2009 NHL draft. The 18-year-old forward had 26 goals and 28 assists in 32 games for the Generals this season.
"John and Michael have been terrific players and fantastic ambassadors for our organization," DePiero said in a statement. "John has been here for four years and he’s been the face of our franchise and Michael has been here three years and been a great player too.
"We reached a point however where we had to decide if we were going to surround them at this stage of their careers with players that could win a championship, or allow John and Michael the opportunity to perhaps win a Memorial Cup. We obviously chose the later. "
The Oakville, Ont., native was the Canadian Hockey League’s MVP at 16 when he scored 72 goals for Oshawa. That erased Wayne Gretzky’s record of 70 goals scored by a 16-year-old.
The OHL’s trade deadline is Friday. The league instituted a trade freeze on Canadian junior team players from Dec. 11, which was the start of selection camp, until the world junior tournament concluded Monday.
That move came in response to goaltender Steve Mason finding out his rights were traded from London to Kitchener the same day he was to play in the tournament semifinal last year.
Tavares had 40 goals and 78 assists in 59 games for the Generals in 2007-08. In its first set of rankings this season, NHL Central Scouting made the six-foot, 203-pound forward the No. 1 prospect in the OHL for the NHL draft.
His main competition to be No. 1 comes from six-foot-six, 220-pound Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, who plays for Modo in the Swedish Elite League.
While not the fastest skater in his draft class, Tavares has superior puck handling skills and finish around the net. He turned 18 on Sept. 20 — five days too late to be drafted in 2008.
Tavares has twice played for Canada’s under-20 men’s team. He had four goals and an assist in seven games at the 2008 world junior hockey championship at age 17.
He was 16 when he had a power-play goal and eight assists in an eight-game series against Russia in 2007.
Tavares was allowed to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old under a newly created "exceptional player clause" and was named the CHL’s top rookie of 2005-06, when he had 45 goals and 32 assists in 65 games.
His former agent approached NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly and the NHL Players’ Association during the summer of 2007 about the possibility of creating a similar clause that would allow Tavares into the 2008 NHL draft, but did not pursue it.
Entering Thursday’s games, London was just six points behind first-place Windsor in the OHL’s overall standings while Oshawa was well back in the middle of the pack.
Tullio thinks the move will make the Generals a stronger club down the road.
"We are excited about the young players we are bringing in and we are obviously pleased to have so many draft picks that we can use down the road to help us build into a team that can win a championship at a later date," said DePiero.
"We wish John and Michael nothing but the best and we thank them for everything they have done for this team and this community."