Toronto Maple Leafs: Have They Hurt the Development of Nazem Kadri?

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IAugust 23, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 23:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. The Maple Leafs defeated the Devils 4-3 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Nazem Kadri is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' top prospects, but despite his immense talent, he has not developed into the NHL forward he should be at this point in his career.

The Leafs are to blame for his development being behind schedule.

He was selected seventh overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2009 NHL draft, and many fans wanted him to make the NHL roster that fall. The team made the decision to send him back to the OHL's London Knights for another season, and it turned out to be Kadri's best in junior hockey. He set career highs in goals (35), assists (58) and points (93).

Since the end of that season, Kadri has played in 50 NHL games and has scored eight goals with 11 assists. The Leafs have demoted him to the AHL twice in the same span, which made people wonder about his talent and readiness for the NHL.

Kadri should have stayed in the NHL during the 2010-11 season. In moving him, the Leafs hurt his development, and probably his confidence as well.

You don't help a top prospect's confidence by sending him down to the AHL when he struggles, especially when you're not a legitimate playoff contender. You give him confidence by letting him stay in the NHL, and working hard to get through his struggles.

Young players, especially first-round draft picks, need to have confidence in themselves and the confidence of their coaches/GMs to succeed. Add the fact that this player plays in the hockey-crazed market of Toronto, and it's even easier to understand why Kadri hasn't developed yet.

The Leafs haven't been playoff-caliber since drafting him, so there was no reason for general manager Brian Burke to send him to the Toronto Marlies. A move of that nature, especially in Toronto, was only going to put more pressure on him because then you have media and fans once again debating whether or not he's overrated.

Once he came back to the NHL last season, Burke should have kept Kadri there, allowing him to build some consistency, gain some confidence and earn some needed experience. Moving him between the NHL and AHL made no sense.

It's hard for a player with high-end offensive talent like Kadri to become a star when he keeps making trips between the NHL and AHL. He's not going to take the next steps in his development at the AHL level.

The Leafs weren't going to make the playoffs when their second-half slump and injury issues began in early February, so there was no reason not to have Kadri on the roster from that point on. After playing for the Leafs on January 31, Kadri was sent back to the Marlies and played in just two more games for the Leafs last year.

Burke needed to find a way to keep Kadri on the roster. There was no reason for the Leafs to keep some of their veterans on the NHL roster over Kadri. The team is rebuilding and needs to develop top prospects such as Kadri ahead of pleasing veterans.

Since the second line (Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur) was struggling so poorly, Kadri's offensive talent would have really helped the Leafs in the second half of the year.

If Brian Burke is so interested in building a championship contender, and not a team that barely makes the playoffs and gets dominated in Round 1, why didn't he have Kadri play the entire 2011-12 season in the NHL? Even when the Leafs were in the playoff hunt, Kadri still should have been on the roster.

As we prepare for the 2012-13 season, Kadri not only needs to stay on the NHL roster the entire year, but also has to have a breakout season offensively. If he doesn't, he might not be in Toronto past the trade deadline in February, or whenever Burke sets his own deadline for deals. 

Some players take longer than normal to become star players. Two examples are Jason Spezza of the Ottawa Senators and Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks. Both guys spent time in the OHL and AHL before becoming NHL regulars.

Kadri is a fine player, there's no debating that. He has good hands, he skates well and he can score goals. His defensive play needs to improve, but it isn't a huge problem for him.

Toronto hasn't handled his development well, and if it continues to not handle him properly, Kadri will never shine in a Leafs sweater. Another disappointing season for Kadri would be a disaster for the Leafs, and would likely lessen his trade value significantly.

Even though he's just 21 years old, there is already a ton of pressure on Kadri to have a big 2012-13 season. Kadri's performance this year will tell us a lot about where his career is headed. He doesn't have anything left to prove in the AHL, so going forward, Kadri's goal is to become a consistent NHL player.


Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.