One way or another, John Tavares becomes a star tonight

MONTREAL -- At this point, it doesn't matter if John Tavares goes first, second or third in tonight's NHL Draft. It doesn't matter if he's a member of the New York Islanders or the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Colorado Avalanche or the Toronto Maple Leafs next season.

What matters is that after years of hype, years of expectations, years of hearing his name placed next to the word "derby" in discussions of his pro career, John Tavares will finally stop being the great unknown and become some franchise's newest star.

Make no mistake: He's the only star in the draft. Victor Hedman might become one. Matt Duchene, whose name is being screamed around here as a potential first overall pick, might become one, too. Hell, Evander Kane could blossom into one of the best power forwards in hockey for whoever selects him in the top five.

But Tavares is a star now, without a single game having been played as a pro. And he knows it.

This isn't to say he's a man of swaggering conceit; some have reservations about his attitude off the ice, but that's conjecture. What's clear about Tavares is his self-identity; that he understands how he got here and what got him here.

Take his personality, which is at times drier than a bag of sand under a heat lamp.

Should he go to New York, the media's going to want to treat him like "Long Island's Crosby," which might make other players modulate their persona a little bit. But Tavares said he doesn't see the need.

"I try to be who I am. Even though I'm a pretty shy guy, a guy who's pretty focused on what I want to do. If I try to change that ... that's not why I'm here in this position today," he said.

He's had to deal with the media spotlight for the last four years, and it only intensified when Brian Burke publicly stated his desire to build a franchise around Tavares in Toronto.

"A few of my buddies would like to see me go there," Tavares said. "It's a little bit of shock. But it's also nice recognition when somebody wants you that badly."

There's recognition, and then there's scrutiny, and Tavares has also received plenty of the latter as the draft approached. E.J. McGuire, the esteemed director of Central Scouting, said that there is more intense and unfair examination of young players now than every before.

"Yeah, and I'm guilty of it," he said. "I'm watching John Tavares for four years and I'm thinking, 'Gee, it didn't look like he came back all the way.' But I'm not in the dressing room. I should put my coach's hat on and slap myself in the face because the coach [is saying one thing] and I'm writing that he didn't back-check there. Too much scrutiny."

In the end, Tavares's fate tonight depends less on what's said about his personality and his game than on what the teams at the top feel they need to win. It's something of which he's aware: This feeling of having his future based more on team philosophy than a "may the best player win" concept.

"Me and Victor [Hedman] are definitely two types of different players. So whatever the team feels is going to help them move forward, that's what it comes down to," he said.

If he goes No. 1, it's a story. If he doesn't go No. 1, it's a bigger story, and one that carries over into his career: Can the former teenage phenom prove the teams that didn't select him wrong? Can a player whose star shone before he ever laced the skates in the NHL live up to those expectations?

Whatever the storyline, John Tavares gives the NHL yet another compelling character in a League bursting with marketable young talent.

And for Tarares, finally joining the NHL is, in his words, "a dream."

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