Maple Leaf Moves: With Pressure on Kadri, Will Keith Aulie Impress Under Radar?

Jon NeelyAnalyst INovember 12, 2010

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres is checked by Keith Aulie #59 of the Toronto Maple Leafs at HSBC Arena on September 25, 2010 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Rick Stewart/Getty Images

In case you live in a house without electricity, or were working in a mine shaft all day, you certainly heard that the Toronto Maple Leafs, in a desperate move, have called up Nazem Kadri and Keith Aulie from the Marlies of the AHL.

For a Leafs team that has lost seven in a row, and nine of its last ten, it was a move to hopefully bring a spark to the lineup and change things up, while simultaneously setting off a media frenzy unseen since, well, the last time Kadri was wearing a Leafs jersey in the preseason.

He's been productive with the Marlies, five goals and 14 points in 14 games (leading the team) and will be expected to come on to the struggling Buds and play a top-six role.

But it's a surprise to no one the hype that comes along with the former London Knight. Simply mentioning his name these days gets you into a heated debate on whether he should go, or he should stay.

Whether he does well, or fails miserably, the media will surround Kadri like hyenas on the prowl for as long as he remains on the roster.

Aulie, on the other hand, comes to the Leafs largely as an unknown to many of the fans. Sure, we've heard some good things from those who've watched him over the years. We know he's big (6'6", 208 pounds), skilled and supposedly a stud-to-be on the blue line. But for most people, it's sort of a wait and see approach for the 21-year-old blue liner.

Apparently last season was the wait part of the equation, because Saturday night against the Vancouver Canucks, on CBC Hockey Night in Canada, Leaf fans will get to see him perform on the biggest stage.

But the pressure is essentially nonexistent for Aulie, who comes in under the radar, overshadowed by Kadri and his entourage. And that might be exactly what he needs to succeed in a hockey-mad market like Toronto.

He won't be expected to come in and boost the defense like Kadri is expected to do on offense, he'll simply be looked at to be effective, play hard and make it difficult for the opponents to play in his end.

And it's not like this call-up is guaranteed to end in Aulie's demotion back to the Marlies, because the sixth spot on the team's defense is up for grabs to whoever steps up. Even when Captain Dion Phaneuf returns, Aulie could cement his spot long-term on this team on the final pairing.

With Tomas Kaberle, Luke Schenn, Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Phaneuf the only five players who have permanent spots, Aulie could easily outplay Carl Gunnarsson and Brett Lebda, who have both struggled to stay in the lineup this season.

With a goal and three assists for the Marlies this year, and great play in his own end, the big defenseman as impressed down in the minors, and now he gets his chance to show he belongs in the NHL.

And with all eyes (and pressure) on Kadri, it might be exactly the scenario Aulie needs to land a full-time spot on the league highest paid defense.

It will take a few games (at least) for both players to get their NHL legs under them (so relax Toronto, when Kadri doesn't get a hat trick on Saturday), but don't be surprised if Aulie starts turning some heads with his great play.

It might be the easiest a call-up will ever have it in Toronto, with the pressure stacked on the shoulders of "the other guy," and Aulie has all the opportunity in the world to make it work.

As for Kadri, well, after being the number one trending topic on Twitter in Canada Friday morning, pressure might not even begin to describe what he's going to deal with.

Feast away, media, feast away.


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