OHL makes changes; Tavares eligible Staff with CP files

5/4/2005 3:00:05 PM

The Ontario Hockey League has altered its draft rules to permit the selection of an "exceptional" underage player, which paves the way for the Oshawa Generals to make John Tavares of Oakville, Ont., the first overall pick in Saturday's OHL draft.

Tavares, a 14-year-old who turns 15 on Sept. 27, is a 1990-born prospect who is considered as good, if not better, than all the 1989-born prospects who are eligible for the draft. The OHL board of governors voted in favour of the amendment to the draft rules in a conference call at 2pm et. The Oshawa Generals have scheduled a news conference for 6pm et on Thursday, where it is expected they will formally announce Tavares as the first overall pick in Saturday's draft, which is conducted via the internet.

Under the old rules, only players born in 1989 or later were eligible for the draft. Under the new rules, Tavares will be granted "exceptional" player status, which is designated as part of a new process the OHL has proposed to Hockey Canada as the future standard for making decisions of this type throughout junior hockey across Canada.

In order to be granted "exceptional" status, the player, in this case Tavares, had to apply for it.

Once that application was received by the OHL, it initiated a screening process.

Tavares had to submit a written essay to the OHL stating why he wanted to play in the OHL next season.

The head of OHL Central Scouting Rob Kitamura had to submit a player evaluation form on Tavares.

Tavares' school teacher also had to submit forms evaluating him as a student.

Tavares' minor hockey coach, James Naylor of the Toronto Marlboros, was also asked to submit an evaluation form.

Then Tavares and his mother, Barb, met with a designated "life skill interviewer." In this case, it was was Toronto Maple Leaf assistant coach Paul Dennis, who has a PhD in psychology. Based on his interview with Tavares and his mother, a report from Dennis was submitted along with all the other evaluations and written material to an "arm's length committee" consisting of  three people with no direct involvement in the day to day operations of the OHL.

That committee included: Kevin Burkett, a noted provincial labour mediator, former Jr. A hockey coach and the father of a player who once spurned the OHL to play at Michigan State University; Frank Bonello, the head of the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau; and, Doug Gimour, the retired NHL star and graduate of the OHL.

The decision of that three-person tribunal was deemed by the OHL to be final and binding and in order for Tavares to gain "exceptional" player status, their decision had to be unanimous.

It was. After that, the last hurdle Tavares had to overcome to be eligible for Saturday's draft was approval by the OHL board of governors and that came less than hour before the OHL formally announced the draft rule change.

OHL commissioner Dave Branch, who is also president of the Canadian Hockey League (the umbrella organization for the OHL, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) has sumbitted a proposal to Hockey Canada to use this "process" to determine "exceptional" players in the CHL.

"This has never just been about just John Tavares," Branch said. "It's been about making sure exceptional players who should get the opportunity to play get that opportunity if they want it and they are worthy of it. We feel our recommendation to Hockey Canada on this issue is the legacy of this process."

"We don't think that 15-year-old hockey players should be playing junior hockey," Branch continued. "But I do believe there are exceptions.

"I don't think we should be afraid of exceptional people no matter what they're doing. We have seen exceptionals come along. Sidney Crosby is an exception and we shouldn't be afraid to embrace a player of his stature."

One OHL scout told the Canadian Press that the precedent could cause problems, since the exceptional designation is a subjectively-based decision.

"I can tell you about 20 parents who think their kid is as good as Tavares," said the scout.