Nazem Kadri: Toronto Maple Leafs Or Bust?
If you have been following the career of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri you know it is hardly a stretch to suggest that the upcoming season could very well be his make it or break season with the Maple Leafs.
Originally drafted seventh overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Kadri has dressed for the Maple Leafs just 51 times since being drafted.
When Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke drafted Kadri he was seen as a top-end player with plenty of offensive skill. Clearly, Burke drafted Kadri with the intention of grooming him to be a top-flight NHL centre; which thus far has failed to materialize.
Defensive challenges are a part of just about every young player’s portfolio. For Kadri his defensive shortcomings were magnified by playing in the biggest hockey market on the planet where every mistake was magnified by 500 percent. Complicating matters further was former head coach Ron Wilson’s aversion to young players and his inability to get Kadri to play the style he wanted him too.
Through it all Kadri has remained remarkably confident in himself and he has avoided airing his dirty laundry in the media. For a 22-year old kid with the weight of the world on his shoulders Kadri has responded with a resiliency, determination and an on-ice effort that has impressed Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins and has some people finally buying into Kadri making his way to the NHL on a full time basis.
“Every time he steps over the boards he’s a real danger to score, Said Eakins. He’s made great strides in managing the puck, he’s better in his own zone. He’s come a long way from where he was a year ago.”
The two biggest areas of concern for the Maple Leafs brass were Kadri’s strength and conditioning (which was thought to be lacking) and his defensive coverage. If we take Eakins’ comments to heart, it appears as if Kadri has addressed both of those areas, at least at the AHL level.
While the Maple Leafs would ideally like to see Kadri make an impact at centre, it is looking more and more like Kadri will be utilized along the boards where his speed, creativity and quick shot can be maximized.
That means Kadri will have to beat out one of Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk, Clarke MacArthur, Tyler Bozak or Nikolai Kulemin for a job if he wants to make the Maple Leafs lineup this fall. Simply put, with Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle looking to put together a bottom-six consisting of gritty players that can check and hit Kadri’s skill-set simply doesn’t fit that mold. Therefore, it’s top-six minutes or bust for Kadri and with all five of Kessel, Lupul, JVR, MacArthur, Bozak and Kulemin on one-way contracts Kadri is going to have to be head and shoulders above one of them to earn a spot in the lineup.
Kadri is not going to knock Lupul or Kessel off the top line and with recently acquired James van Riemsdyk getting a shot at centre this fall the Maple Leafs top-six just got a little more crowded. Realistically it would appear as if Kulemin (who was arguably Toronto’s best two-way forward last season) or MacArthur getting bumped down to the third line. That said, even if that happens Kadri would still have to knock MacArthur or Bozak out of the top-six as well, which may be tough.
Statistically Kadri failed to make huge strides last season. Through 48 games with the Marlies Kadri registered 18 goals and 22 assists for a total of 40 points. Kadri had 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points through 44 games played with the Marlies in 2010-11. While his statistics failed to impress it was Kadri’s positioning and poise without the puck that has people taking notice.
Kadri, who has demonstrated the ability to be a valuable player in shoot outs, was a dominant force during the Marlies Calder Cup run, notching three goals (a couple of them big ones) and 10 points through 11 games. Sadly, Kadri was derailed by injuries forcing him to miss a few games, but if you watched him play in the playoffs you saw the bulk of his work paying huge dividends and we also witnessed a player who has the drive to will himself to the NHL.
Kadri made it into 21 games with the Maple Leafs last season, scoring five goals and adding two assists. His was a minus-3 in that span, which was not overly alarming considering the Maple Leafs had the 29th ranked defense last season.
The point is, if Kadri can take the lessons he learned in the AHL and apply them to training camp he should be able to impress the Maple Leafs coaching staff enough to earn a shot at landing considerable playing time this season and for the foreseeable future. Should Kadri fail he will likely become trade bait, but that shouldn’t bother him as he has been mentioned in just about every trade rumor involving the Maple Leafs since he was drafted.
There are plenty of examples of prospects that take a little more time to make an impact at the NHL level.
Brayden Schenn, who was taken fifth overall in the same NHL Entry Draft as Kadri, has just 63 regular season NHL games under his belt. Through 63 games Schenn has registered just 12 goals and six assists for a total of 18 points. Those numbers mimic Kadri’s very well and while Schenn is just 21 years of age, there is not much difference there.
Sure, if I had to compare the two players I would say Schenn is more developed than Kadri. That said, Kadri and Schenn are two very different players, so it is tough to draw direct comparisons.
When you consider the players that were drafted in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, there are plenty of examples of players that are yet to make a big impact at the NHL level.
Ryan Ellis, Scott Glenie, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Zach Kassian, Peter Holland, Jordan Schroeder and Kyle Palmieri have already spent considerable time at the AHL level, many of which have failed to impress at the NHL level yet.
And if you are looking for a star player that took his time getting to the NHL, Jason Spezza spent parts of three seasons with the Grand Rapid Griffins and Binghamton Senators (the Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate) before he cracked the Sens lineup for good. If Kadri can be anything close to the player Spezza is Brian Burke will be very pleased, as will the Leafs Nation.
The point is, as much as we’d all love to see Kadri netting highlight reel worthy goals for the Maple Leafs this season, there is no reason to panic as there is still plenty of time for him to elevate his overall game and become that creative goal scorer Burke knows he can be.
For Kadri, it may not be Maple Leafs or bust, but it is certainly time for him to step up. Here’s hoping he bumps someone out of a job come October!
Until next time,