In part four of his 12 burning questions series, Derek Harmsworth examines whether Nazem Kadri will crack this lineup, and where he fits in with the team if and when he does.
On the night of the opening round of the 2009 NHL entry draft, we were treated to a birds eye view, courtesy of TSN television microphones, exactly the type of persona Brian Burke would be bringing to the front office of the organization. Â After a brief exchange with Senators GM Bryan Murray that looked more like a bullying than anything, Burke took the podium, soaked up the boos from the Canadiens faithful, and made his first pick as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs, are pleased to select, from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, Nazem Kadri.”
Kadri, a swift skating playmaker with goal scoring capabilities, instantly became one of the Leafs organizations top building blocks, in part through default, but also for the type of player he is, and can become.
Another seemingly stellar player to come out of the growingly famous “Hunter brothers hockey factory”, Kadri appears poised to breakthrough with the Toronto Maple Leafs this upcoming season, and it appears Brian Burke, Ron Wilson, and everyone else in the Leafs coaching and management staff appears ready to give him every opportunity to do so.
After being drafted in the summer of 2009, Kadri immediately made a big impression with Leafs management and fans alike after a very good rookie orientation camp, which he followed up with a top notch training camp, and a great showing during the pre season. Â It was a hot topic among many pundits as to whether or not the Leafs should keep Kadri in the big leagues, or return him to his junior club for another season.
Of course, as we now know they did the latter, and it appears to have worked out exactly as Brian Burke had planned.
Kadri returned to the London Knights, shortly after wrapping up a preseason campaign with the Leafs in which he scored his first goal on familiar ice, the John Labatt Centre, Kadri’s hometown, and the home arena of the London Knights. Â Early upon his return to the OHL he struggled, before ramping it up offensively, and becoming one of the league’s most dangerous players in the second half of the season.
He was also given opportunities to further develop by playing in the Subway Super Series, as well as the OHL All Star Game. Â He made an appearance for Canada at the World Juniors in Saskatoon, and while his physical play sometimes crept over that imaginary line, he provided a few key goals for the team en route to their silver medal finish.
For the Leafs organization, it was precisely what they wanted to see out of their most recent top prospect, and Kadri delivered in spades. Â As much as his stats stand out on the ice, it was the things being done off of the ice that many fans, and Leafs management, certainly took note of.
While many can still argue that Kadri has a lot of maturation to do be on, and off the ice (although I for one can certainly refute the claims of his substance abuse) it was in the gym where Kadri began to shape himself, and position himself for a legitimate shot at making the Maple Leafs this upcoming season.
Knowing he would be given every opportunity to make the team, Kadri appears ready to seize the moment. Â After a summer of dedicated working out-of which required him to be in Toronto every morning bright and early-Kadri has bulked up his previously wired frame, and while he certainly won’t be mistaken for the Incredible Hulk anytime soon, the added weight should help him while carrying the puck, and dealing with the physical play of the NHL level.
Despite all the signs pointing towards an upward projection for Kadri this season, the question still remains; will he make the team, and if so, what type of impact can we expect him to have?
It appears that the only thing going against Kadri right now in his bid to make the Maple Leafs this season would be the glutten of players who line up at the centre position. Â However, both Brian Burke and Ron Wilson claim to treat all training camps as a completely open book in terms of position battles, so there should be no reason why he can’t make one of the top four centre spots.
Where he fits in, may be another question entirely.
With Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel having seemingly instant chemistry, it appears that, barring any sort of trade, that Tyler Bozak will have the upper hand going into camp of centering the top line alongside Phil Kessel. Â Add to that the fact that Burke stated the other day he expects a 60 point campaign out of Mikhail Grabovski, and it would appear that Kadri may enter camp with only the chance to lock up the third or fourth line centre spots, and the debate would question whether that would be a positive development for his game at this point.
Still, as any Leafs fan will tell you, things worked out on paper rarely work out on the 200 by 85 sheet of ice. Â It is not out of the realm of possibility that an injury, or slow start with a player like Grabovski, and the Leafs could be well be calling on Kadri to take on more minutes, and more responsibility.
On the other hand, those had the chance to see Kadri in many appearances with the Knights this year (yours truly among them) know that his game is far from one dimensional, and perhaps a spin on the third line would be beneficial to Kadri, who could continue to use his speed and physical play to his advantage, while continuing to work on his two way game.
With Tyler Bozak expected to have Phil Kessel and Kris Versteeg riding shotgun, and Mikhail Grabovski to be flanked by Nikolai Kulemin and Colby Armstrong, perhaps Kadri working alongside Marcel Mueller and Luca Caputi can provide the Leafs some instant chemistry similar to the “frat pack” line, while at the same time being a third line with some offensive pop.
Of course a Kadri, Kulemin and Armstrong combination could be lethal as well, and perhaps Jerry D’Amigo surprises everybody and makes this roster out of camp. Â Thus proving that all of this is speculation, and line combinations will likely be changed 100 times before the season even starts. Â What we do know for sure is that the Leafs will give Nazem Kadri every opportunity to make the team, and as far as they are concerned, the sky is the limit for what he can do once he does get the call to suit up for the blue and white.
In the meantime, Kadri will continue to do everything in his power to make the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2010-2011 season, and the team seems more than willing to foster that youthful enthusiasm and hunger.
And while the verdict is still out on whether he can make the team, and if he does in what capacity or role it will be, it’s hard to deny the excitement for Leafs fans as Kadri enters camp with that aforementioned youthful enthusiasm and hunger to succeed not only in the National Hockey League, but in a Toronto Maple Leafs uniform.
In fact, it could well become the slogan, or war cry, for the entire 2010-2011 season as far as the Maple Leafs are concerned. Â A team full of youth, excitement, and hunger to prove pundits wrong. Â And from what we can gather, Nazem Kadri is all too happy to be the poster child for the campaign.
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Get in touch: derekharmsworth@mapl[email protected]