An ode to John Tavares, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ underappreciated star

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ellis
6 months ago
When John Tavares became the first player to be granted exceptional status into the OHL , nobody knew just how good of a player he was going to be.
I remember seeing all the news clippings mentioning JT in the Oakville Beaver and Oakville Today as a kid growing up. He lived just a few minutes away, and I’d hear stories about these three up-and-coming players shooting shots all day long in their driveway: Sam Gagner, Steve Mason and future Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares.
To me, he was the first real superstar prospect I followed. I remember hearing about him putting up over two points a game in the GTHL. I remember going to an OJHL game – one of my first hockey games ever – and seeing this player getting a special cheer from the crowd dominating with the Milton Icehawks. And then you’d see the stories, both in print and on TV, of him dominating with the Oshawa Generals, and the rest is history.
The Hockey News put Tavares on the cover of Draft Preview in 2009 with big, yellow text reading “Johnny Fever” with him standing in his London Knights jersey. I still have a copy of that in my room somewhere.
I’ll never forget Tavares’ brilliance at the 2009 world juniors. That New Year’s Eve game against the United States doesn’t get the attention it deserves, I think. It was a truly remarkable game, and that tournament showed why Tavares was one of the best young players in the game.
Fast forward nearly a decade later. JT had established himself as a consistent threat, instantly making an impact with the New York Islanders and consistently challenging for the team scoring lead. When he became a free agent in 2018, everyone linked JT back to his childhood team. We’ve seen the bedsheets. We’ve seen him playing minor hockey. Tavares bled blue, and there was nowhere else he would go.
When Tavares signed his landmark seven-year, $77 million contract in 2018, it marked the biggest deal in team history. Reports suggested he was offered more elsewhere, but he wanted to go home. And he did.
Tavares made an immediate impact, scoring 47 goals and 88 points in his first season with the club. But Tavares has never been the star player in Toronto he was once projected to be. He hit 80 points last year, with injuries cutting him short on other occasions. This year, though, he’s on pace for 85, which would be one of the best of his career – and at 33, which typically is well beyond a player’s prime.
By all intents, Tavares’ contract was the Leafs’ Kawhi Leonard signing. Results-wise, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way, with the Tavares-led Leafs winning just one playoff series in five years. You be the judge on whether the deal was worth it, but you can’t say Tavares is the reason they’ve struggled in the playoffs. And it’s not like Tavares is any different than Toronto’s other captains since the 1960s.
In an era with high expectations, Tavares has remained a calm, cool and collected voice in the midst of chaos. It’s not easy representing a market like Toronto, but few do it with such class and respect. And for the most part, Tavares’ impact has been so vital on the ice. You notice when he’s not in the lineup.
Scoring 1,000 points is no small feat. That’s what made watching over 18,000 fans giving him a standing ovation on Tuesday feel special.
In a way, Tavares’ impact feels underappreciated by the common fan. He doesn’t have the star power of Auston Matthews; the flash of Mitch Marner; or the swagger of William Nylander. Instead, Tavares is the parental figure, bringing the team’s young talent under his wing and making them better as players and as people.
Tavares will be a UFA in 2025. We’ll see where his future takes him, but don’t take him for granted. Sure, the fanbase wants more. They want a Cup. And with all the high-paid talent on this roster, anything less is a disaster.
But it has been an absolute blast watching John Tavares play hockey for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
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