MLHS Exclusive: Nazem Kadri on Offseason & NHL Expectations

MLHS Exclusive: Nazem Kadri on Offseason & NHL Expectations

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Last Wednesday (September 1st), Toronto’s MasterCard Centre for Excellence, the Maple Leafs‘ own practice facility, played host to the 2010 NHLPA Rookie Symposium in association with trading card leaders Upper Deck and Panini America. MLHS‘ own Gus Katsaros was in attendance, and has kindly provided audio from his own conversation, as well as portions of a larger media scrum Q&A, with Leafs‘ top prospect Nazem Kadri.

With many fans expecting Nazem Kadri to crack the opening night lineup, there has naturally been much interest in his offseason training and preparation. When did he get started, and what is involved in his training routine, have been curiosities on the minds of many.

Kats: What did you do in the off season to prepare yourself for training camp?

NK: I worked out really hard. I had a couple two-a-days going towards the end of the summer to try to get ready. I think physically where I am, I’m in a good spot.

Kadri elaborated on his offseason further in the larger media scrum, noting that:

As far as taking time off, I took four or five days, nothing too drastic. I don’t want to sound impatient or anything … but the opportunity is there and I don’t want it to pass me by. I want to everything I can to complete my goal of playing in the National Hockey League full-time.

Of course, the most-oft asked question surrounding Kadri’s offseason has been his weight. Leafs‘ GM Brian Burke, and even Kadri himself, have at various time acknowledged the need for the young pivot to add a fair bit of strength in order to be able to withstand the rigors of the National Hockey League.

Kats: There seems to be an excessive amount of focus about getting bigger and adding muscle. What do you think is your ideal playing weight?

NK: I think my max will be 195-200 (pounds). I don’t think I’ll be playing heavier than that.

That’s quite an interesting answer. For all of the talk about the need for Kadri to bulk up in order to make the Maple Leafs‘ roster, few have actually defined what is meant by ‘bulk up.’ To some, it means a player must add a certain amount of size, whereas to others it refers more to sheer physical strength, a component which is often mutually exclusive from physical dimensions.

For example, not every 6’0” player (Kadri’s list height on MapleLeafs.com) possesses the same body type or frame. Those with a wider frame may be more inclined to play a power or a grind game, in many cases at a weight exceeding 200 pounds as the added mass is less likely to have a negative effect on their ability to succeed within that role (and in many cases, can aid it). Players with a leaner frame, on the other hand, are more likely to be inclined toward a finesse game and are thus more likely to suffer the effects of too much additional weight compromising their skill set.

Although he certainly needed to get much stronger than he was last season, Kadri – a player whose success largely depends on his ability to play a finesse game – has to ensure that he is working to strengthen as opposed to simply adding mass. Hence the seeming self-imposed limit in his answer. In order to maximize his chances for success, Kadri will need to find a balance between becoming strong enough to handle the rigors of the NHL while maintaining his agility, particular the ability to rotate and jig his shoulders in order to deke and sneak through traffic. Accordingly, it is the addition of upper body strength – as opposed to mass – which will be the key area of focus for Kadri.

Kats: Do your expectations jive with the Maple Leafs expectations going into training camp this year?

NK: Yeah, absolutely. Mine might even be a little higher than theirs. I want to set the highest expectations possible, that’s just how I am. I don’t like to underachieve and hopefully I can reach all my goals.

Self-confidence is key for any player, especially a rookie trying to break through into the big leagues. And the good news for Leafs‘ fans is, confidence is in no short supply with Kadri. When asked a similar question in the media scrum, he added:

I’ve been in contact Burkie and he’s told me what he wants [from me this offseason], and I expect the same things from myself.

What should perhaps give fans the most reason for optimism, however, is that beyond a high level of self-confidence, Kadri has also demonstrated a high-level of self-awareness and perspective, knowing and embracing his role as a team leader in London, Kitchener and the World Junior Championships, all the while appreciating what it took to achieve that position.

Kats: One of the final postseason games I viewed in Kitchener saw you dominate the game, but the Knights lost. What did the London playoff experience give to you?

NK: Yeah, that was the year I was kind of that go-to guy [in my role] and my job was to put up offense for my team. I had to try to help weave us through the playoffs, [a whole new level] of pressure you have to deal with. I think I did a pretty good job, but unfortunately we came up a little short.

Kats: You ended up going into the World Juniors as somewhat of a spare part, yet emerged as a prime component. Is that an indication to you that you’re doing things right?

NK: Absolutely. I was rated as the 12th or 13th forward and I had to work my way up. I had to do that in Kitchener, too. My first year I started on the fourth line and I worked my way up to the first come playoff time, so I know that I can do that.

And what does it take to do that, posed a member of the larger media scrum. With the possibility of some time in the AHL looming in the background, what does it take for a player to earn his way into the NHL, and earn regular playing time at the game’s highest level?

There’s a certain level where it’s all fun, but after that it’s all about passion and a love for and dedication to the game. If you have what it takes, and you have enough heart, you’ll get there.

Skill and heart. Nazem Kadri possesses an abundance of each, and it is safe to say he has made it abundantly clear he cannot wait to prove to fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs that he can become an impact player in the NHL, just as he was in Junior.

With sincere thanks to Gus Katsaros for recording – and generously providing – the audio files used in this post.

Looking forward to your thoughts as always,

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