TORONTO — Maybe it is because he was a top-10 draft pick on a team that tends to trade away its first-round selections, but there has always been a higher level of expectation with Nazem Kadri.
No question, the 21-year-old feeds into it. From the moment the Toronto Maple Leafs called his name with the seventh-overall pick in 2009, Kadri has straddled the line between confident and cocky. As a rookie, he once told reporters that he was looking forward to buying his first Ferrari. And despite having just 45 games on his NHL resume, he still says things like, “I’m the type of person that rises to the occasion.”
As refreshing as it might be to hear a hockey player speak honestly, that type of talk will not always attract positive attention.
But beyond the false bravado is a talented young hockey player who has so much natural skill and creativity that he could very well be a star in this league if he ever puts it all together.
It is still a pretty big if. But to see Kadri spin around and bat a puck out of the air for a goal, as he did in a 4-1 win against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, is to see the potential for something special.
“Obviously, it takes some skill to put it into the back of the net,” he said. “With a little luck, I guess.”
Sure, Kadri might have been lucky to get his stick on the puck. But he was even luckier to be on the ice in the first place. After recording no goals and one assist in his previous seven games, he had been a healthy scratch earlier this week and was bracing himself for what he thought might be another demotion to the American Hockey League.
But with the entire team in a funk, head coach Ron Wilson decided to juggle the lines and inserted Kadri on a line with Leafs leading scorer Joffrey Lupul and Tim Connolly. The youngster made the most of the opportunity by scoring his first goal in three weeks.
“It’s a bit of a confidence boost,” Kadri said. “With me being a healthy scratch, I wanted to come out and make an impact right away. No better way to do that than score 50 seconds into the game.”
The forward lines did not change during practice on Friday. But his spot on the team is far from permanent. He still sits by himself at one of the auxiliary stalls at the end of the dressing room. And though Kadri joked that he “needs to get upgraded” to a seat with the rest of the team, he understands that he has to earn it through consistency.
“This is my opportunity to kind of make myself a full-time NHLer,” said Kadri, who has four goals and two assists in 15 games. “Really, fate is in my hands. As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, and keep listening to the coaching staff and working as hard as I can in practice, the transition is going to be smooth.”
In the last two years, Kadri has been the Leafs’ yo-yo, bouncing back and forth between the minors and NHL. His longest stint was 16 games in 2010-11. And even though this latest run has lasted about four weeks, Kadri cannot help but look over his shoulder.
Darryl Boyce, who is day-to-day with back spasms, is hoping to return next week. Colby Armstrong, who has been out with a concussion, is not far behind.
“It’s always in the back of your head,” Kadri said. “Even when you’re playing well, there’s that little bit of doubt. Healthy guys are coming back, so you never know what’s going to happen. It’s just that we’ve got great depth on this team and so many guys can come in and contribute.
“I just try to think positively. I knew I was going to get another opportunity and when that opportunity came I knew I wasn’t going to waste it.”
© Copyright (c) canada.com