Nazem Kadri: Young Toronto Maple Leaf Prospect Learning The Hard Way

Mark RitterSenior Writer IOctober 12, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs stands during warmups prior to play against the Buffalo Sabres  at HSBC Arena on September 25, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

After an offseason filled with lots of fitness and a meal plan that added nearly 15 pounds of muscle to his smallish frame, Nazem Kadri probably felt that he had as good a chance as anyone to make the Toronto Maple Leafs roster heading into training camp.

A subpar rookie camp, followed by a questionable preseason which saw the young centre criticized for his play away from the puck led to Kadri’s demotion to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate, Toronto Marlies, where it was felt the talented, offensive-minded youngster could learn the defensive nuances needed for him to be successful in the NHL.

While it’s still early in the season, Kadri looks to be struggling again and, as such, he is paying the price—again!

In only his first game as a member of the 2010-11 addition of the Marlies, Kadri once again struggled defensively, leading head coach Dallas Eakins to bench the defensively-challenged youngster in the early goings.

For Kadri, it was yet another tough reminder that in order to play professional hockey at the AHL or NHL level he will have to learn to play away from the puck.

With so many eyes on Kadri and with the Maple Leafs looking for him to be an impact player as early as this season, the Maple Leafs organization made a strong move by electing to move Kadri to the wing in game two—a move that should pay off in the long run.

Despite the Maple Leafs need for a second line centre (apologies to Mikhail Grabovski), it would seem, at first glance, to be a poor decision electing to move Kadri to the wing. Upon further review, given how poorly Kadri has played down the middle and how uncomfortable he has looked in the neutral zone, it appears as if Kadri has been dealt a solid by being asked to move to the wing.

While playing along the boards is no cakewalk defensively, it is widely believed that the centre position is a lot harder to develop defensively, therefore, as much as many Maple Leaf fans would have liked to have seen Kadri moved to second-line centre duties, the wing looks to give Kadri the best chance of success, which will help the Marlies and the big club, sooner rather than later.

In his only game along the boards in the preseason, Kadri had one of his best games in a Maple Leaf uniform, recording a two-goal, three-point night, giving Leafs general manager Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson all the reason in the world to believe that, while challenged defensively, Kadri has all the offensive tools to be an elite player one day.

One way or another Kadri needs to learn the defensive side of the game. If he is better suited for the wing, so be it—put him in a position to succeed rather than fail.

It is yet to be seen if the Maple Leafs/Marlies are going to stick with the plan and keep Kadri on the wing for the foreseeable future, it says here Kadri should be given another 20 games on the wing to determine if the experiment works—continually moving him around will only confuse the youngster and impede his development, which is imperative to the Maple Leafs future success.

Until next time,