With many Maple Leafs fans looking for the team to make the playoffs sooner rather than later, throwing names around in regard to trades has become a regular occurrence, with Nazem Kadri's name among them.
Ever since Kadri was drafted back in 2009, he has been under so much scrutiny. Now, more than ever, Toronto fans are getting impatient with the former first round pick. While he may be progressing slower than most people would have liked, I still believe he is capable of being an impact player for the Toronto Maple Leafs going forward.
This article will focus on the reasons why I think Leaf fans should continue being patient with Kadri. Patience is a virtue, and with Kadri, I think Leafs fans will be happy they gave him another chance.
Enjoy and I look forward to your feedback!
Some fans like to believe that Kadri taking so long to solidify himself in the NHL isn't natural, but it is. Many players have gone through similar development patterns and have gone on to have success in the NHL.
The following is a list of former first round draft picks who have taken at least three years before solidifying themselves as regular NHL players:
Bobby Ryan, T.J. Oshie, Steve Downie
Michael Grabner, Claude Giroux, Chris Stewart, Kyle Okposo
Lars Eller, Ryan McDonagh, Max Pacioretty, Kevin Shattenkirk, Logan Couture, James van Riemsdyk
Jake Gardiner, Cody Hodgson
2009 (Most likely players aside from Kadri)
Chris Kreider, Ryan Ellis, Carter Ashton, Louis Leblanc
Aside from the players mentioned in 2008 and 2009, all of the other players have managed to become regular NHL players. I could bore everyone with the details of each player but nobody wants to go through all that. However, each one of these players were up and down for at least the first three years after they were drafted. The most notable players on this list are Bobby Ryan, T.J. Oshie, Claude Giroux, Chris Stewart, Max Paccioretty, Logan Couture and, of course, James van Riemsdyk.
An interesting thing I noticed when researching this part was that current players in the Leafs system like Jake Gardiner and Carter Ashton are going down the same road as Nazem Kadri. Gardiner was drafted back in 2008 but did not make his mark until this past season—three years later. Carter Ashton was drafted back in 2009 along with Kadri and has yet to make his mark.
Progression is not a linear line. Everyone develops at their own pace. I understand it's natural to get frustrated when a player takes longer than expected, especially in a hockey hot bed like Toronto. However, many players have gone through exactly the same thing and have gone on to have success. There was a reason Kadri was drafted 7th overall, and I think it would be foolish to give up on that kind of potential so soon.
Nazem Kadri was drafted to contribute in an offensive role, not a defensive one.
It has therefore bothered me to no end that every single time he was called up, he was put in a bottom six role. In a video here from the 2009 NHL entry draft, they talk about Kadri's flaws defensively, but at the same time, talk about the tremendous skill and offensive capabilities he possesses.
An article on kylethereporter.com from December 2011 also talks about Kadri's lack of an opportunity to contribute in a top six role with the Leafs. I did some research in regards to the games Kadri played in the NHL.
This past season Kadri averaged about 13:30 minutes in his 21 games with the Leafs, with 16:16 minutes being the most minutes he played in a single game. He did average top six minutes with the big club for his first 16 games of the season, however, he was fresh off an injury and, at the time, required some conditioning in the AHL. Unfortunately, Ron Wilson did not give him this conditioning, and he was rushed into the roster sooner than he should have.
In another article by Scott Brophy of Sportsnet.ca here, Dallas Eakins can be quoted as saying the following about Nazem Kadri:
"Especially when you are the team’s first round pick, everyone is in a massive hurry," Eakins told sportsnet.ca. "People say, ‘Put him in now! Put him in now! Put him in now!’ We want to put him in when he’s ready. He has high-end NHL skill, for sure. His hands and his eyes -- the way he sees the ice -- are right up there with the best. You can’t teach that stuff. This isn’t NHL skill; it’s the high end of the NHL skill. He’s 21, but he’s in an 18-year-old’s body and he needs to get stronger and faster."
Kadri is an extremely skilled forward who, if given a proper shot to succeed, has the potential to be an offensive threat in the NHL.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the main concern in regards to Nazem Kadri's game is his play defensively.
When Kadri was drafted it was not because Brian Burke thought he would be a premiere defensive player. It was known that Kadri would need to work on the defensive aspect of his game, but the offensive positives far outweighed the defensive negatives.
Over the past two seasons in the AHL learning from Toronto Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, Kadri has become more and more of a defensively responsible player. While there is still room for improvement in that regard, he is no longer as liable as he was before.
Kadri will need to perfect his positional play a little more, but that should not stop him from making the Leafs roster sooner rather than later. Also, there is no better coach to help him with that regard then Randy Carlyle.
While people may think that Nazem Kadri has not truly proved he can play in the NHL, I think otherwise.
Point totals are not the only thing that convey a players ability. Like I mentioned before, during all of his call-ups with the Leafs, he was never really given a proper shot in the top six. Sure he did play a few games here and there, but overall, he was relegated as a bottom six player. In that role, points are not an apt way to look at his ability.
What Kadri did show is that he is getting better at playing positionally and he is learning to use his body more to protect the puck. Playing in a bottom six role probably helped him a lot in that regard. The offensive capability has always been there, but he just needed to learn how to round out his entire game.
In the AHL, Kadri is almost a point per game player, socring 35 goals and 81 points in 92 games. Those are very respectable numbers, even if it's only in the AHL. During the playoffs he started to show his gritty style of play again, something that had been missing since he'd left juniors.
I fully believe Kadri will make the Leafs out of training camp. I just hope that management realizes if they really want to see Kadri succeed, he needs to be given a proper shot in the Leafs top six.
With all this talk about Toronto needing to find a No. 1 center to play with Phil Kessel, why not give Kadri a shot at the role?
Kessel is a creative offensive player and a pure goal scorer. Kadri is a creative offensive player who can create scoring opportunities on a whim.
Kessel is a speedy and explosive player. Kadri is training hard this offseason to work on his explosiveness.
On paper, they seem like they would be a great match together. The only way to know for sure is to give Kadri the opportunity to prove himself.
In Scott Brophy's same article from Sportsnet.ca, he states that Kadri is spending the offseason training with Gary Roberts where he wants to work on becoming a more explosive player. Brophy goes on to say that Roberts only trains with the most determined athletes each offseason.
In an article written by thehockeynews.com back in 2010, it talks about Gary Roberts' fitness camp that he conducts for young players. The article talks about players who have gone through this program, most notably Steven Stamkos and Jeff Skinner.
Stamkos went through the program in the summer of 2009, after his rookie season, and went on to score 51 goals and 95 points in 2009-10.
Jeff Skinner went through the program in the summer of 2010. He went on to score 31 goals and 63 points, enough to win Rookie of the Year honors the following season.
Another article here from the Pittsburgh Penguins homepage states that, last summer, Jordan Staal worked out with Roberts as well. The result was Staal scoring 25 goals and setting a new career high with 50 points while missing 20 games. A summer with Roberts turned Staal into an almost point per game player.
An article here from theglobeandmail.com discusses even more new and returning players who trained with Gary Roberts last summer. Some returning players were Steven Stamkos, Stephen Weiss and Steve Downie, and new players were James Neal, Cody Hodgson and current Leafs prospect Spencer Abbott.
Stamkos went on to score 60 goals and 97 points last season. Weiss remained consistent scoring 20 goals and 57 points. Downie continued to be an effective pest scoring 14 goals and 41 points. James Neal became an offensive weapon, scoring 40 goals and 81 points. Cody Hodgson had a respectable rookie season scoring 19 goals and 41 points between Vancouver and Buffalo. Spencer Abbott went on to score 21 goals and 62 points with the University of Maine while being nominated for the Hobey Baker award.
It's hard to determine what kind of improvement we can expect from Kadri, but I believe it will be visible come training camp.
Going back to the article I referenced earlier from kylethereporter.com, Dallas Eakins can be quoted saying the following about Nazem Kadri:
“Naz knows there’s a process. He knows he has to be patient,” said Eakins. “He knows the big clubs winning and he knows they’re in a great spot and they’re not in a big hurry to fill a hole up there. This isn’t, come down and play three great games and see you later. This is, let’s put together 10 good games. And you know what, he’s done it.”
To go along with that here is an exert by Kadri himself from Scott Brophy's article:
"That’s really one of the things that I don’t have a say on," he said. "I really have no choice other than to be patient. I’m taking it stride by stride and I know the end result is going to be something very powerful. I’m getting better and stronger every single day. Honestly, when I grow into my body and I’m fully grown I believe I’m going to be a pretty good hockey player. You’ve got to stay patient and that’s one of the main things I keep telling myself. I thought I could have stepped in my first year, but you don’t want to rush it."
From this we can see that Kadri knows that there is a process, and he believes in his ability. So why can't Leaf fans just be a little more patient with the former 7th overall pick? He is definitely making good strides and has proved his dedication by taking his training to the next level.
People may bring up the fact that Leafs nation had faith in Luke Schenn but he was still shipped out of town. However, in that case, the Leafs traded a young player with a lot of potential for another young player with a lot of potential in James van Riemsdyk.
If Toronto were to trade Kadri, I wouldn't want it to be as part of a package for a top offensive player. That would involve trading a lot more than just Kadri, who I feel would probably be just as good (if not better) than the returning player. Now, if Kadri were traded straight up for young player like Cody Hodgson or Brayden Schenn, that would be more ideal. The Leafs would be trading potential for potential, just like they did with Luke Schenn.
Kadri will be an excellent NHL player in the future. Just because he isn't where people wanted him to be right now doesn't mean he won't get there, possibly even as soon as this season. Leaf fans have been waiting impatiently for three years now, but if they can just hold on a little bit longer, they might see that it was not in vain.