Cinderella story, outta nowhere, about to become a Stanley Cup Champion. It looks like a mirac...IT'S IN THE NET! IT'S IN THE NET! (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Update: 2012 Canada/Russia Challenge is at 11am on TSN2. Hopefully a chance for Leaf fans to see just how overly excited they should get for Morgan Rielly.

Caddyshack is a story about a boy named Danny Noonan who lives an aimless life as a golf caddy and struggles, as we all do, to find meaning and direction at a very formative age. Despite having the talents and drive to succeed at the level he hopes and expects he’s capable of, he lacks that crucial factor which is a prerequisite for a person to achieve success in any profession: opportunity. After a series of hilarious interactions and soul-sucking observations about the superficially “successful” nincompoops around him, Danny finally utilizes his potential in a moment of opportunity to seize glory, with a little help from some exploding gopher holes.

Thus concludes my fancy, over thought review of an American comedy classic. I’ll get to the point. Nazem Kadri’s our own Danny Noonan – high on potential, higher on drive, a shade lacking in opportunity – and the discussion about what direction his career is soon to take is a relevant one.

The divergence of opinion in Leafland about Nazem Kadri is nothing short of remarkable. Many feel he should be playing in the NHL now, and should have been doing so much earlier. Others (including Brian Burke and his staff) feel, perhaps more prudently, that as a player who has not developed the reliability and refinements in his game that are to be expected of an NHL star, Kadri’s time to this point has been far better served gaining experience in the AHL. Especially since, frankly, any impact he could have made with the Leafs to this point would have been objectively minor, and likely at the cost of crucial development years.

I tend to side with the latter half. Does it not make more sense, if his potential ceiling really is so high, to properly grow the player asset so that he can perform near peak level for many years as opposed to skewering his development curve just to serve PR interests now?

And make no mistake, Kadri – to this point – has not been close to that peak level. He remains a “high risk” player, as Burke has noted previously. He’s turned the puck over at far too high a frequency. He’s been physically energetic, but not yet enough of a literal physical threat to be consistently impactful on the forecheck. He’s quick, but not as game-changingly fast as he perhaps can be . And statistically, 19 points in 51 career NHL games may not be a disaster – but it’s not the sort of performance that demands a player be retained on the big league roster, either.

You’re not being the ball, Danny.

Understand, that was a setup for a Caddyshack joke. Not a condemnation of the player. What I’m saying – very longwindedly – is not that Nazem Kadri is great or good or bad, but that he’s at something of a crossroads in his development. Now, we’ve heard that before. “He has to make it this year, or he’s a bust!” Or, “complete bullshit,” as you may otherwise know it.

I call it a crossroads because the problems described above aren’t limiting him now in the way they used to, and there seems to be consensus in the discourse that even if Kadri’s not perfect as a player yet – and, at 21, who would be? – he nevertheless has enough experience to crack the Leafs roster this fall. And stay there.

His offensive skill has always been top tier for the NHL. His defensive game and reliability with the puck have both cleaned up considerably. And according to this thorough piece from Brophy earlier in July, Kadri’s training hard with Gary Roberts this summer and doing everything in his power to gain size and strength quickly. Because we all know, according to the internet, that Gary Roberts is the most magical and powerful hockey fitness guru on the planet, and that every player under his tutelage immediately becomes supersoldier-like, right?

(NOTE: I phrased that like a joke, but it’s really not. It may very well be true. Gary’s an intense maniac when it comes to that stuff, and Naz working with him can only be good.)

I’m going to divert for a second and bring up the size issue, because it seems to be the most hot button of the hot button-y ones. Kadri’s simply not that big. The Leafs‘ official site has him listed at 6’, 188 lbs. Some would argue this isn’t an issue; plenty of small, fast, high-skilled players have made excellent NHL livings by simply being quicker and better than the players around them. Others suggest that if Kadri’s going to play the kind of chippy, physical game for which he’s known, then his size will become a liability when those other players decide to push back and his body fails to withstand the retaliation.

I don’t really have a position on the issue. Both sides of the argument have total merit to them. I believe in Nazem Kadri’s ability to be an impact player at the NHL level, I believe his talents make him more than capable of achieving that status, and I believe Naz has all the drive and confidence he’ll need to get there – despite a few limitations and remaining challenges in front of him.

About three months ago, I was fortunate enough to meet Kadri very briefly and also participate in his media scrum. You can’t help but be amazed with his frequent exhibits of skill on the ice, but in that dressing room I can say I was legitimately surprised, in person, by Kadri’s size. I never expected the man to be carrying any kind of significant bulk, but I was shocked to realize that Dallas Eakins’ comparative comments from earlier in the year (“He—s 21, but he—s in an 18-year-old—s body”) were not in any way a comic exaggeration.

Now for me, that’s not enough to condemn the player. But to dismiss it as a non-factor isn’t fair, either. Kadri’s size will be a concern every time an NHL defender with 30 pounds of pure muscle on him tries to demolish him into the corner.

What say you, MLHS commenters? Is Kadri ready, will he stick, and who comes out of a crowded forward corps to make room?

Thursday morning links!

-Kyle Cicerella explains why Mike Zigomanis received an AHL contract. “To spite Don Cherry” is, surprisingly, not it.

-Kyle also tells us Kadri sees Carlyle as a second chance – which is a pretty obvious backhanded slap at Wilson if there ever was one – and that Carlyle would have kept him on the Leafs‘ roster for the remainder of last season if not for that dumb recall rule Brian Burke really, really wants gone.

-PPP continues their Top 25 under 25 series with #18, Josh Leivo. I’m not sure if this constitutes a spoiler, but I have a feeling Morgan Rielly is going to be #1.

-A fellow named Mitch Gleaves @ The Hockey Writers makes the case that Nazem Kadri won’t make the Leafs, and relies pretty heavily on the “quantity of mediocre, established players ahead of him on the depth chart that Burke will probably ice instead out of loyalty” argument. I disagree vehemently, but hey…it’s a convenient list of the Leafs’ forwards if you ever need one!

-Via TLN, Cam Charron thinks the Leafs should trade Joffrey Lupul. Like, right [censored] now. He uses some frightening math to convince us of as much. I really don’t want to agree. But there’s a fairly sizeable portion of my brain that…might, sorta, reluctantly acknowledge that agreeing is a slight possibility. Maybe