Although he’ll never be the biggest, fastest, or strongest player on the ice, Nazem Kadri seems to think that he is; and this postseason, it’s showing on the score sheet. It is well known that Kadri is an extremely skilled forward, but physically and mentally he was thought not to be mature enough to handle the rigours of an NHL season.
Despite collecting three goals and two assists for five points in six preseason games for the Leafs, Brian Burke thought it best to send his best prospect back to the OHL for one more season.
After being sent down, Kadri decided that he was going to put on a show to prove that he was ready for the NHL ranks, and thus far he’s done just that.
After putting up 78 points last season, Kadri exploded this year posting 93 points in 56 games (fifth in the OHL), racking up 105 PIM’s along the way. Leaf fans should take note that he hasn’t let up in the playoffs smoking the Guelph Storm for 10 points in just four postseason matchups.
I will admit that I have never been a fan of Kadri. I didn’t like the throat-slashing gesture he made towards a Swiss player at the World Juniors; the reckless penalties he took; or the cocky attitude that he portrayed after scoring a goal or mouthing off to an opponent.
Now I’m starting to think that’s why Brian Burke is a fan of him.
Kadri plays with the type of reckless abandon that Burke loves and it’s not hard to picture Kadri filling a role in the Leafs top six next season.
I had a chance to see Kadri in action when the London Knights came to Guelph Thursday night to take on the Guelph Storm in Game 4 of a seven game series.
Booed every time he touched the puck, for a borderline hit the game before, Kadri was not fazed and he quickly fired a beautiful breakout pass to spring a teammate on an early breakaway.
Kadri’s passing was the one part of his game that stood out to me the most as he seemed to always put the puck exactly where it needed to be at exactly the right time. His creativity off the rush and in the offensive zone is off the charts, and he was as confident setting up the zone at even strength as he was manning the point power play.
The moment that I really started appreciating his play came in the third period.
With his team up 6-2 in a game that was very much over, Kadri gave the puck away at the Guelph blue line setting up a breakaway for the speedy Matthew Sisca. Instead of giving up and leaving his goaltender to deal with his mistake, Kadri turned on the jets, chased Sisca down, and cleanly stole the puck away from him at the hash marks.
That’s the type of play one needs to be willing to make to thrive it in the pros, and Kadri is willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the next level.
Although he did score on a one timer on a first period two-man advantage Kadri’s shot leaves something to be desired and will need to be one of the main parts of his game that he improves before making a smooth transition into the NHL.
He seems to lack the natural one timer of a player like Steven Stamkos who is able to wire a shot without even thinking about it. Kadri doesn’t have that same kind of confidence and as a result, his slap shots and one timer seem guided and lack the velocity needed to put up a lot of goals in the NHL.
However, his other offensive skills, his skating, and his natural head for the game will allow him to succeed without the use of a potent slap shot.
On a team that includes young offensively gifted players such as Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin, Phil Kessel, and Victor Stalberg, Kadri should be able to fit in right away and provide another offensive spark to a team that has struggled to score goals this season.
This offseason he will need to put on some weight, work on his shot, and mature mentally, but I believe that Kadri will make an impact on a Leaf team desperate for top end offensive talent.
I had my doubts going into the game, but once it was all said and done, I was very impressed by a player who has tremendous offensive skills, hustles, and plays with an edge that many gifted players lack.
So in the words of Pierre McGuire: Toronto Maple Leaf fans get excited about Nazem Kadri!