Being a 7th overall selection comes with a certain presumption, especially in a hockey-mad city like Toronto. It’s also a lot to handle for a 22- year-old that’s been in the spot light since he was 18 and had his jersey hanging in Toronto store fronts after scoring a highlight reel shootout goal in pre-season. Repeat; pre-season.
Kadri has been unfairly criticized for too long and it’s finally time the media and fans stop taking him for granted and enjoy what the silky smooth London, Ontario native brings to the Maple Leafs.
In now his third pro hockey season Kadri seems poised to breakout and cement himself as a legit NHL player and escape the title of prospect. He collected 127 points in 119 games in the two and hae lf seasons with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL and has 24 points in 56 games with the Leafs. As of January 29th he has five points in the first five games of the lockout affected 2013 NHL season. His AHL numbers scream that he’s ready to produce consistently at the top level. Hi s NHL numbers maybe not so much but he hasn’t been given a full season to work out the kinks at the NHL stage, mostly because the Leafs haven’t had good enough teams or the patience to let him.
The big knock on the former OHL scoring star with the London Knights and the Kitchener Rangers has been his defence and size. The AHL time was supposed to help his defence and it has, according to Dallas Eakins the Marlies head coach.
“His all round game has always been something the organization has wanted him to improve and he has done that down here, while still producing offensively” said Eakins.
It was a tough start to the 2012-2013 season with the Marlies. He didn’t score his first goal of the season until November 10th, the tenth game of the season. It just happened to be the game winner and his third point of the night against the San Antonio Rampage after sitting out as a healthy scratch the night before in Houston.
Kadri rattled off 16 points in his next 15 games and helped Toronto climb back to the top of the AHL standings. You might say Eakins message was received and the one he had after the game even more.
“I said to him and Joe (Colborne) that you’ve really screwed yourselves now because you’ve showed what you can do and we expect that every night now,” said Eakins.
Kadri did exactly that and credited a bit of it to that night in the press box in Houston.
“It’s always different to watch the game ’from that view; you see things you don’t on the ice,” said Kadri. “I’m not saying that turned things around cause I wasn’t playing as bad as people made it out to be. I was getting my chances they just started going in for me. It just helps sometimes to have that view of things.”
Maturity and immaturity are two words used a lot with NHL prospects and Kadri is no different than others when it comes to those definitions. He’s still young. Kadri took those steps this off-season when he went to train with former NHL’er and fitness guru Gary Roberts.
“It was great this summer working with him. He really pushes you physically and mentally and teaches you how to treat your body right; what to eat and what not to eat a lot of,” said Kadri who felt he needed to be bigger and stronger this year if he wanted to stick in the NHL.
We all saw the media monster that is the Toronto hockey market this fall when Kadri was the center of attention because Eakins didn’t feel his fitness testing results were up to par at Marlies training camp. It was blown out of proportion and Eakins never meant it to sound like some reported it.
“I simply stated that he was in the bottom group of guys in testing and [Nazem] knows that. We talked about it. Everyone leached on to that comment and ignored all the praise I gave him in other parts of his game,” said Eakins.
The things Eakins praised him about are obviously paying off for Kadri at the NHL level. He made the Leafs after a short six day training camp and in a small sample size, has produced at a point per game rate in the five games so far.
One of the major reasons for Kadri’s very early season success is Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle, who in Kadri’s eyes has given him a real positive boost.
“With Randy, it’s a whole different ballgame. He explains everything he does to you. Even if you don’t get the minutes you want, there’s an explanation for it. There’s a reason for it. And he’ll come tell you personally, too,” said Kadri.
The notion that Nazem Kadri isn’t going to turn out to be an elite NHL player is wrong. Kadri at the AHL level, has accomplished all there is to accomplish and is ready to make the jump to the NHL as a full-time contributor to the Maple Leafs. Sure he’s got swagger but that’s what makes him a special player. If he isn’t playing with that swagger, he isn’t playing the Nazem Kadri game. Five games is too small a sample size to say he’s there, but for the past two and a half seasons he has played the best hockey of his career.
It’s Kadri’s time to flourish and the Leafs patience with him is about to pay off.