The stars seem aligned for Nazem Kadri.
The Maple Leafs are freeze-dried until further notice. Barring a groundbreaking deal the Leafs will eventually need a skilled centreman on the first line, especially since coach Randy Carlyle has labeled the prospect of James van Riemsdyk in the middle an offhand remark gone viral.
Ah but to have a superbly-skilled young pivot with sparkly draft credentials. Maybe a player who has put up something close to a point a game in the American League; someone who delivered at that rate in the AHL playoffs. It would be great he if had ridden the bus for, I don’t know, 100 games or so just to make sure he was hungry.
If you are building the perfect candidate, he would be a pass-first left-hand shot to accommodate Phil Kessel on his right wing. He’d need to be fast and in excellent condition, maybe someone exiting the Gary Roberts boot camp of puke first, eat sweet potatoes later.
Oh wait. Nazem Kadri is all those things. He isn’t overly big, maybe five-foot-eleven and he probably hasn’t got a tux ready for the night he wins the Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive player but when the Leafs get back to business with leaden summer wheels Nazem Kadri’s feet will look like Fred Flinstone’s. Drafted seventh overall in 2009, he is just 21 years old.
One other thing. If he is to spend his winter in the media hothouse that is Toronto, he better have extreme self-esteem.
Once again, Nazem Kadri.
With 81 points in 92 AHL games, Kadri turned in .86 points a game. He delivered 10 points in 11 playoff games before he was knocked out of the post-season by an injury.
Put another way, had Kadri played 68 games, the number turned in by leading scorer Mike Zigomanis, Kadri would have been in a dead heat with the veteran for the Marlies scoring lead and fans would have lined the stretch from the Ricoh Coliseum to Air Canada Centre with rose petals in anticipation of his arrival on the first line.
Kadri said if anything a point is harder to come by in the AHL than in the big leagues and he may have a point. He has scored 19 points in 51 NHL games but much of that can be written off to the tiny dabs of ice time he was allotted by former coach Ron Wilson.
“With the skill level I have I think it’s actually a lot harder for myself to play in this league as opposed to the NHL,” Kadri said Thursday as the Marlies opened training camp.
The AHL, he said, is a north-south game with plenty of grinding. “Guys are big and strong, I think there’s a couple of more meatheads in this league than there are in the NHL so you’ve got to keep your head up at all times. “
Aside from labeling bigger opponents meatheads, Kadri is an intelligent player. His penchant for turnovers is mitigated by his ridiculous dexterity with the puck. The guy can tie his shoes while shaving and griping about his giveaways is a bit like grousing that Angelina Jolie can’t cook.
More than anything the problem for Kadri has been that he was too easy to knock off the puck.
All in the past, he insists.
“When you are riding the bike every day or running on the treadmill with a mouthpiece in your mouth it’s a whole different story.
“I’ve put on four or five pounds,” he said. “I’m at 185-186 pounds. I wanted to make sure I was lean and fast. My lower body explosiveness is hands-down a lot better.”
In many ways Kadri’s whole summer will be measured in fitness tests. Should he be declared one of the fitter Marlies, he will have delivered solid evidence of his readiness before a skate hits the ice.
There is one caveat.
“To be honest after these tests are done I might treat myself to one burger,” he said. “We’ll see.”