Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri Is Set to Have a Breakout Season in 2013

Jon ReidCorrespondent IIJanuary 20, 2013

MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 19:  Erik Cole #72 of the Montreal Canadiens strips the puck from Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the NHL game at the Bell Centre on January 19, 2013 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

Other than Brian Burke and Ron Wilson, Nazem Kadri has undoubtedly been one of the biggest lightning rods in any discussion taking place about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Has he been mishandled? Or is he just lazy?

Does he just need a bit more time to develop? Or is it time to capitalize on what little value he still holds in the trade market?

Those have been the questions fans have been asking for years.

The fact that Kadri returned to training camp for the AHL's Toronto Marlies out of shape, despite spending a summer with a fitness guru, did nothing but fan the flames.

Kadri's play of late, however, has really stemmed the tide when it comes to criticism directed his way.

After being benched by Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins in early November (he had only posted three points in nine games and didn't have a positive player rating), Kadri has been unstoppable everywhere he's been.

Since being inserted back into the lineup after being benched at the AHL level, Kadri went on to register 23 points in just 18 games.

The Maple Leafs brass took notice of his resurgence and invited him to training camp.

Kadri wouldn't disappoint during the shortened camp, notching a hat trick in one scrimmage and watching his stock rise overall.

By the end of training camp, Kadri had cracked the Maple Leafs third line and it was announced that he would start Saturday's opener centering a line that also included new faces James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov.

That line was absolutely sensational in the team's first contest, pushing the pace and spending much of their time in the offensive zone creating a plethora of scoring chances.

Kadri also found himself on the power play early in the game, and even tallied his first goal of the season on a beautiful goal that required him to go to the net, take the pass, slickly transfer it to his stick, stabilize himself and wire it into the gaping cage past Carey Price.

Even those that complain that the 22-year-old London, Ontario, native isn't physical enough must have been impressed last night.

Kadri found himself in the corners and threw his body around.

He had two fairly nice hits, though one of those checks wound up costing him two minutes in the penalty box. Something tells me, though, that head coach Randy Carlyle won't discourage that type of hard hit—one that wasn't even from behind.

One game may not be something for Leafs fans to jump up and down about, especially against a bottom-feeding team like the Montreal Canadiens, but Kadri has done much more than impress in one game.

His play since early November has been remarkable.

He also seemed to have learned that he cannot simply use his hands to dangle around every opposing player on the ice and when he needs to pass the puck to his teammates. This boost in the "hockey IQ" department makes him a major threat when he hits the ice, as he can beat a player one-on-one and is no longer as predictable as he once was.

Between his AHL successes, his formidable training camp and now his great start to the NHL season, all signs point to Nazem Kadri having a breakout season.