The Washington Times - March 23, 2012, 12:44PM

Want to know how big of an impact John Tavares had on Dale Hunter? The star center played just about 3 ½ months for the London Knights in 2009, but the Washington Capitals coach holds a special place for Tavares.

“These kids, like Tavares, I don’t want him to score against us, but I hope he does well. And if anybody’s going to score a goal on us, I hope it’s them,” Hunter said. “Let’s say the Islanders score. It could be John Tavares or Joe Smith. I’d sooner have that, if it’s going to go in.”

SEE RELATED:


When Tavares scored twice in the Caps’ recent win on Long Island, Hunter asked reporters if his former star got the hat trick. His team winning but Tavares succeeding would have been the best of both worlds.

The Knights went out and got Tavares and Michael Del Zotto at the ‘09 Ontario Hockey League trade deadline to go for it. They didn’t win the Memorial Cup, but it wasn’t because Tavares (21 points in 14 playoff games) didn’t do his part.

“It was a lot of excitement for myself because I knew I was going to a team with the chance to win and the reputation of winning and what they started there a few years before I got into the league,” Tavares said. “It was a great time for myself, I remember: A lot of great teammates, a lot of guys that are playing in the NHL now.”

In the meantime, Tavares made some nice little history in his brief time in London.

“I was able to break the Ontario goal-scoring record with the Knights and it was a special accomplishment,” he said. “We didn’t get the ultimate goal, but we had a great run and I had a great time there.”

Tavares, now an All-Star for the New York Islanders, became the No. 1 overall pick that spring, the fifth in London’s history, following in the recent footsteps of Patrick Kane.

Tavares knew he was going to be a high pick, so getting thrown into the fire in London was probably the best thing for him.

“It was my draft year and there was a lot of attention leading up toward the draft,” Tavares said. “Playing there, there was a lot of media coverage. The fans – it was the biggest thing in town, and everywhere we went, people knew who we were and cared about the team and how the team was doing. For sure it was definitely a good way for me to prepare myself for this level.”

Of course, the benefit of playing for Hunter and the Knights went beyond media attention. Tavares got to play in front of full houses at John Labatt Centre for the stretch run and the playoffs.

But he also gave plenty of credit to Dale and Mark Hunter, who “ took good care of me and helped me become a better player.”

“It was a lot of fun. They made the game a lot of fun; they wanted us to enjoy the game,” Tavares said. “Playing in the city of London, they treated you like a professional. If felt like you were playing in the National Hockey League with what the team meant to the city, the packed building we had every night.”