The title of this article seems messed up, so let—s just start by explaining it. I—m not actually going to be talking about our soon to be former top prospect. I—m going to talk about an approach; an organizational and fan-made approach to our next top prospect. Still, expect Kadri—s name to be mentioned a lot.
This article shouldn’t really be about Kadri, because he is still very much what he always was, only a bit older. He still deserves to be talked about and his development is still very important to this hockey team, but some guys just take longer to develop. Don—t believe me, then take the Sedins for example.
My starting hypothesis for this article was that the spotlight that has followed Kadri has slowed down his development as a hockey player, but I haven—t really figured out the psychology behind it. If you are ready to step up, you—re ready to step up, look at Landeskog and Skinner,” you say. Well, exactly. Kadri wasn—t ready then, and while he—s more ready now, it—s more complicated than just putting a talented kid on the ice, especially in a market like this.
It can be argued that the external pressure and high expectations for the kid at that age contributed to a certain self image, which can give a maybe-undeserved confidence boost. When not performing up to the expected standard, it can also leave a mark on such a young mind. When you—re picked 7th overall in a market like Toronto, that immediately captures media attention, but Kadri also contributed to all of the hype. He played one hell of a debut training camp. That raised expectations to an even higher level.
Turns out all of this attention wasn—t as much undeserved as it was early and unnecessary. I—m not saying Kadri would already be in the NHL if the hype wasn—t there. I am saying we shouldn’t make superstars out of projects who still haven—t played their first NHL game. It can (not necessarily will) impact their frame of mind. He is still the same player, but maybe we lost a couple of developmental months with him trying to find his hockey humbleness and maturity again.
It—s quite probable that reality hits harder than any open ice hit. I can never fully be sure of that in regards to Kadri, but I am sure that certain young minds find it hard to cope when they don—t meet their (or our) expectations. Not saying Kadri wasn—t aiming high when he was drafted 7th overall, but I wouldn—t blame him if part of his thoughts already put him on NHL ice.
I can understand why this might be hard to avoid. We are a fanbase that—s absolutely crazy about hockey. The game captivates us like nothing else in this world. When you—re waiting to win for such a long time as we have, it—s hard not to be on a constant lookout for a savior, especially when talking about a legitimately highly skilled young player.
However, as it was implied in the previous paragraphs, this goes beyond fan expectations. Like Burke said in his Business of Hockey interview for The Agenda, he—s in the entertainment business. If you can—t win in that particular moment (and history speaks for itself), then give the fans something to savor… something to talk about. What—s tricky about this is the factors go hand in hand. If it wasn—t for fan expectations, Kadri wouldn—t have such a viable entertainment factor and thus wouldn—t be a target of such hype and expectations.
Was it in the best interest of Kadri? No, it was in the best interest of generating audience. To generate that glimmer of hope in dark times. I would be more upset about this if the organization did more to hamper his on ice development than just feeding of the hype and doing promotional stuff. You can argue the call ups until you—re blue in the face, but it—s not like you can create a perfect situation for him to come into.
Was it smart of the fanbase to buy into the hype? Let’s say it was expected. Since we—re not Borg (to continue with the Star Trek analogies) and don—t have a collective mind, it—s hard to tell people who have waited this long to not have hope, be it in a form of a young player. But this is exactly where everyone needs to stop and think. Are we in this for the good of the franchise or are we in this to rub a Stanley Cup win into everyone else—s face? Do we care more about the Leafs or about our ability to say, “MY team won the Cup.” Of course it goes hand in hand, but by expecting (not by hoping, believing, supporting or fairly criticizing) you become a small part of what hinders the team. This isn—t blaming the fans, because I still think a team wins or loses via personnel decisions and on ice play. Does it help? Based on what you—ve seen, you tell me.
No, this is more about common sense. Common sense that maybe, just maybe, not every prospect is the same. Not everyone is Landeskog, Skinner (not every market is Colorado, Carolina either). I believe in attitude and in players who relish it when given the chance, but I also believe players should only play when they are ready, especially in this league.
Would I trust a kid who stepped up immediately, took his first shot at cracking the roster and produced in his first NHL season over Kadri? Sure I would, but that doesn—t make me a good GM, coach or scout, it only has me seeing the obvious. That isn—t a reason not to trust in Kadri, or wait him out. That kind of one dimensional line of thinking can deprive us of many players who still need to be developed further. How much time is enough time, when does the patience run out? I—d say until the prospect has been declared ready by the organization and given a full shot at the big time — rate his performance then, make the call then.
On one hand, I—m happy that of all the attention will now most probably be directed elsewhere. It will give Kadri room to play his game and come into the league on his own terms, not on ours. Maybe this new kid will perfectly handle being our new golden boy, maybe he has the mental makeup to go out and just play. Maybe this is the prospect to lead this team to the Promised Land one day, but I—d rather give him the time to prove it before labeling him as one.
These kids give everything to the game of hockey. Just being drafted is a very big accomplishment. This fifth overall selection will be a Leaf, but not more so than Kadri is right now. So, be it Galchenyuk, Grigorenko, Forsberg or somebody else, let—s temper expectations as their performance dictates, let—s give them all a fair shake, for the good of this hockey team and the kids themselves.
This time, we—re much closer to winning. Make no mistake, Burke might be in the entertainment business, but the most entertaining part of the business is winning. We—re at a point where we shouldn—t be expecting entertainment via stories of golden boys or highlight packages, we should be expecting progress in terms of winning hockey games, the type of progress which should give added space to our future players, to grow and contribute when they are ready to do so.
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