John Tavares called late last night from Pittsburgh and immediately wanted to make a point. Our conversation:
How’s your trip to the Stanley Cup Final?
It’s been amazing. Having a great time. Hey, I don’t mean to cut you off, but is it okay if we get to something right away that’s been bothering me?
Of course. What do you got?
I’m glad we’re finally getting to talk and I can get my voice out there to New York and Long Island. Once and for all, I want to be clear that it would be a privilege to be drafted by the New York Islanders. Please let everyone know that. I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s been out there. I like the Canadian media and I’m on the web reading like everyone else, but some it has gotten out of hand. I don’t know where they get that stuff.
How do you think it got started?
I don’t know. From the very beginning, I consistently said that I would sign with the team that drafted me. When the Islanders won the lottery, there’s been so much garbage out there. It’s really bothered me. Even before I visited with the Islanders and got to know the owner and the GM, there was never an issue. Now that I’ve gotten to know what the franchise is about, I feel even stronger about it. I want to be part of them rebuilding into a contender. I want to be part of a Stanley Cup team there. I want to be an Islander. Can you please make that clear in your article?
You just did. Tell me about your meetings with the Islanders.
I’ve been in communication with them a lot. I know they saw many of my games. Ryan Jankowski and some of their Eastern scouts saw me a lot. I’ve gotten to know (development scout) Eric Cairns pretty well. Jankowski and Cairns are great guys, always working. Then I sat down with Ryan and the scouts for the 20-minute session at the Draft Combine and I saw them at the testing.
You passed on doing the push-ups. Is the injury anything serious?
Not at all, and everyone knows that or will know that.
Besides the combine, Charles Wang and Garth Snow traveled to Ontario to watch you play.
That was really appreciated, that they would take that kind of time out of their schedules – especially a team owner – and take a flight to watch my team play and come say hello after. Tremendous.
The big meeting, of course, was your trip to Long Island.
It was my first time, and I was blown away by how beautiful it was. It’s close to one of the greatest cities in the world, yet it has so many really nice areas. Looked to me like an incredible place to live.
Did you stay at the Garden City Hotel?
No. Actually, I stayed at Garth Snow’s house.
No (laughs). I’m serious. It was awesome. We got to spend a lot of time talking about the team and the community. We had a few meals together. We played golf.
Tam O’Shanter Country Club?
Yeah, that was it. Everything was just fantastic.
How long were you there?
Two days, two nights and flew home the next morning.
Besides breakfast with Snow, someone else took you out for breakfast.
Yeah, Doug Weight. That was so key. My time with Doug will stay with me the rest of my career. You know him – he’s just a great person and so helpful. I’ll be honest with you. When I first heard about it, I was thinking, I’m 18, he’s a bit older. Are we going to have enough to talk about? I was a little nervous. But Doug could not have been cooler. Put it this way: even if I don’t end up with the Islanders, I feel I have a friend, an experienced player who’ll help me out when I need advice.
Did you meet with Charles Wang on the Island?
Yes. We only talked briefly when they came to my game, so it was great to sit down with him for a while. We met for about an hour and had lunch, had some laughs, talked about his plans for the team. The Lighthouse Project looks really nice. I think it would be great to be part of a team that builds into a contender while the Lighthouse Project gets done. The Islanders have an incredible tradition and a winning history. This would be like a new chapter for the franchise, and to be part of it would be special for me.
Who do you know of the younger players on the Islanders?
I played with Josh Bailey on Team Ontario in an Under-17 tournament. Great playmaker and really good person. We were on the same line last year in Team Canada camp for the World Junior Championships. I’ve played against Kyle Okposo in international competition. What a good player he is.
I hear you’re going with Matt Duchene and Victor Hedman (today) to visit Tampa Bay. [Note: yes, it appears the Lightning are having them in together and at the same time. Fascinating]. Besides your meetings with the Islanders and the Lightning, are any other teams bringing you to their cities?
There are no other visits scheduled. Just the Islanders and Tampa Bay.
Do you have any idea of the expectations that would come your way if the Islanders selected you first overall?
I heard some fans were chanting my name at the last game of the regular season. That was nice.
The team has a lot at stake, with the arena issue and with the rebuilding program. Is that something you’re ready to handle?
It comes with the territory. I understand it and embrace it. I mean, I know it’s not the same as the NHL, but I’ve had pressure put on me since I was 14 years old. I’ve been in the spotlight in Canada. I know how to handle it. It comes down to playing hockey, and I’m confident in my ability to get it done. There may be some growing pains in the first year with whatever NHL team I end up with, but we’ll work through them. It’s really not a concern for me at all.
Do you have any indication of where you’re going to end up?
No. The Islanders have been real professional and gracious toward me, but they aren’t talking about their plans to me or anyone else. I think they want to keep it exciting. It seems to have generated a lot of hockey talk since the lottery. Garth probably wants to keep everyone on their toes and see what he can do. Of course you always want to know as soon as possible, but I understand his position.
Let’s do this again: do you want to be drafted first overall by the New York Islanders?
It would be a dream come true. I really hope it happens.