Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Is Nazem Kadri in the AHL?

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Toronto Maple Leafs: Why Is Nazem Kadri in the AHL?
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The slumping Toronto Maple Leafs fell 1-0 to the visiting Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night, in a game that prospect Nazem Kadri may have been able to salvage.

Kadri, who currently plays for the Leafs' AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies, was drafted seventh overall in the first round of the 2009 NHL entry draft. 

In 38 games for the Marlies this season he has tallied 11 goals and 18 assists.

In the opinion of many, Kadri should be a full-time roster player for the Leafs.

Sure, GM Brian Burke would say otherwise. But many, including myself, completely disagree with Toronto's treatment of Kadri. Personality clashes with coaches and management seem to have him on the outside looking in.

He is a young, creative player that clearly has the offensive abilities to play at the NHL level on a consistent basis. However, his defensive game has been a question mark since his arrival in Toronto.

Until last season, management was reluctant to call him up from the minors, but an injury to Colby Armstrong forced their hand and afforded Kadri a late-season opportunity—he did not disappoint.

Kadri played more physical, made smarter decisions with the puck and showed that his defensive game had drastically improved.

His play earned him many accolades from teammates, coaches and management. Media and fans jumped on board too.

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It seemed that a renewed sense of excitement was starting to surround the young star.

Unfortunately, a preseason knee injury this year sidelined Kadri from starting what many had thought was going to be his breakout season. Matt Frattin stepped in, played well, and Kadri was reassigned to the Marlies. 

Once he finally got his call this season, Kadri came up and started slow—this is partly because he was placed on the third-line and saw minimal playing time. Regardless, in 19 games with the big club this season, he was able to notch four goals and two assists.

As his confidence grew, Kadri let everyone know that he was ready for full-time duties with the Leafs. But neither Burke nor former coach Ron Wilson agreed.

Kadri was sent back down to the AHL and lo and behold Toronto's struggles began. This is not to suggest that he was the glue holding the Leafs together, but Kadri was certainly an offensive spark in their lineup.

He has all the tools needed to become a remarkable talent for Toronto, but for some strange reason, Burke would have fans believe that his game still needs work.

Toronto's boss may be right. But since being drafted, Kadri has played one full season for the London Knights in the OHL and nearly two full seasons with the Marlies—at this stage of his career, further adjustments will come only by playing in the NHL.

Kadri is gifted offensively and has a certain moxie to his game that needs to be unleashed, not controlled. In my opinion, Burke needs to give him a permanent roster spot and allow him to grow into a well-rounded NHL-caliber forward.

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He may stumble, he may bumble—but along the way Kadri's natural talents will take over and he will thrive.

With all due respect to Carter Ashton, Burke's most recent call-up should have been Kadri instead.

At least he has NHL experience and offensive creativity that could potentially inject life into Toronto's slim playoff hopes.

Claude Giroux's shootout goal Saturday night was great. Kadri's would have been just as impressive.

 

Follow Matt Wiseman on Twitter for up-to-date NHL news and analysis.

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