March 06, 2012

John Tavares: Road To Olympus?

Hockey Canada announced the management team for Team Canada's entry into the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Steve Yzerman returns as executive director. Joining Yzerman on the management team will be the same three NHL executives who assisted him in 2010 - general managers Ken Holland (Detroit Red Wings) and Doug Armstrong (St. Louis Blues), along with Kevin Lowe, the Edmonton Oilers president of hockey operations. Hockey Canada's Bob Nicholson and Brad Pascall round out the team.

It is interesting that Hockey Canada returned with the complete management team of the gold medal winning 2010 team. Yes, they were successful. But Team Canada made the mistake of bringing back stale blood in 2006. Hopefully the team will bring in fresh coaching, although Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock are likely to return as well.

Of course, as soon as news broke about Yzerman's return speculation about Canada's roster started immediately.

The turnover from 2010 could be significant, especially up front. Right now it is hard to imagine that Steven Stamkos and Claude Giroux not on the team. Add that to incumbents Jonathan Toews, Mike Richards, Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal, Patrice Bergeron and throw in veterans Jeff Carter and Jordan Staal, and Canada is strong at center.

That does not even include arguably Canada's top two centers: Sidney Crosby and John Tavares.

Interestingly, many of the pundits are including Crosby's name on their March 5th, 2012 rosters. They have faith that he will return to the game, though at this stage it is fair to question if he ever will be the same again.

Many of those same talking heads are not including John Tavares. I find this very surprising.

Sure, he's easy to overlook with the lowly New York Islanders. And sure, if you figure Crosby, Stamkos and Toews are your top three centers, your realistic focus for a 4th line center would be more of a physical shutdown player. But players of Tavares' ability are rare.

Tavares is an incredible talent. He has gifted hands, mesmerizing players with one-on-one moves before unleashing a powerful wrist shot. He can deke a defender in a phone booth and wants to be the difference maker. Far too often he is incorrectly knocked for his average foot speed as he can surprise defenders in traffic with a surprising burst of quickness. He is becoming a better playmaker.

Perhaps the best thing you can say about John Tavares is he makes those around him that much better. Look at his linemates on Long Island. Matt Moulson and P.A. Paranteau are minor league castoffs. Yes, they deserve all the credit in the world for working their way to the NHL, but their offensive numbers are greatly aided by Tavares' presence.

Assuming Sidney Crosby can not be the player he once was, I find it hard to believe John Tavares will not be on the team. Tavares is too pure of a talent. He's just 22 right now, and in two years his body will be that much more mature to handle the workload. He has already shown what he can do on the international scene, leading Canada in scoring at the 2011 World Championships. If he can shake the hot and cold streaks and work on his faceoff ability, he will be hard to keep off the 2014 Olympic team.

If Sidney Crosby returns to form, Steve Yzerman will face the same difficult decisions Mike Keenan once faced. Both have a lot of offensive depth already and are faced with the decision of cutting another top talent in favour for players who offer different dynamic. After all, offense is not everything. Yzerman may have the same tough decision about John Tavares as Mike Keenan faced about a young superstar - Steve Yzerman.

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