Apr 5, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) skates against the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre. Winnipeg defeated Toronto 4-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Maple Leafs Put Their Faith in Nazem Kadri

If you’re Nazem Kadri, there’s a silver lining to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ failure to land Brad Richards, Joe Thornton or some other big name centerman this off-season: it’s means your chance to shine has finally arrived.

As we already know, the Leafs desperately need a reliable centerman to anchor the team’s second unit. Tyler Bozak is a capable, if not splashy or elite, option on the first line. His defensive skills help offset the liability of playing Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk at top minutes.

Beyond Bozak, however, the team doesn’t really have any other reliable options at center. They’ve opted to take a chance on Petri Kontiola and Mike Santorelli this season, but there’s no guarantee how (or even if) these players will fit on the team. Expectations for Kontiola, in particular, should be tempered somewhat. It’s one thing to collect points in the KHL, but it’s something entirely different to accomplish the same task in the NHL.

The NHL is the world’s top hockey league, brimming with talented players, and we’ve seen the Leafs’ eagerness to add players from other leagues fail in the past. Leo Komarov, for all his speed and toughness, has left some fans disappointed while Jonas Gustavsson‘s time in Toronto was (fairly or unfairly) very controversial.

This suggests that Kadri, not Kontiola or Santorelli who joins Toronto as an inconsistent journeyman from Vancouver, is the Leafs’ best option to start the season as the second line centerman. The idea of Kadri playing a larger role on the team shouldn’t surprise anyone – he’s one of their best future assets – but is he ready to assume this role now?

Kadri has played a total of 177 games at the NHL level, recording 113 points (46 goals, 67 assists) in the process. He recorded 44 of these points in 48 games during the shortened 2012-2013 season (his best campaign to date), but slipped this past season, recording 50 points in 78 games. That’s quite the drop in production and it’s something that must be addressed.

Who’s the real Kadri? A 50 point performance is enough to secure the second line center job on the Leafs, but if Kadri could return to point-per-game status, there’s little to hold him back from becoming the center on the team.

Having said all this, we saw Kadri assume a more physical role on the team last season, tripling his previous year’s total for penalty minutes, and his average playing time per game increased by over a minute. If the drop in production is related to Kadri becoming a better all around player, it can be excused. This team has seen too many one-dimensional players in the past (remember Jason Allison?).

Between Kadri, Komarov and Cody Franson, the Leafs will have three big hitters in their lineup. Head coach Randy Carlyle should appreciate that.

(For doubters, Kadri delivered 141 hits last season, which put him in a tie for 101st overall in the league. He had delivered 48 hits in 2012-2013 (tied for 193rd overall), underscoring his recent development in this area. Franson ranked second overall last season while Komarov ranked fifth overall in 2012-2013.)

What are your thoughts? Is Kadri the Leafs’ best option to center the second line? Is he ready for added responsibilities?

Regardless of whether he’s ready for the role, the Leafs might have no real choice: they didn’t do enough during the free agency period to give themselves better options.

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Tags: Brad Richards Cody Franson James Van Riemsdyk Jason Allison Joe Thornton Jonas Gustavsson Leo Komarov Mike Santorelli Nazem Kadri Petri Kontiola Phil Kessel Randy Carlyle Toronto Maple Leafs Tyler Bozak

  • David Da Rocha

    …..Kadri has pretty much entrenched himself as this team’s second centre. At this point in his career, he must play against quality opposition in order to develop properly. Kontiola will play third with Komarov. Santorelli will play fourth, he is a solid two way player, better known for his defensive (penalty killing, checking) ability. Whether or not Kadri is ready for “added responsibilities” isn’t even a question in my mind. Frankly, we have no choice.

    • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson


  • Andrew

    Kadri, one of the leagues biggest hitters? C’mon now. He lays the odd big hit, there is no disputing that. But he’s hardly one of the biggest hitters in the league. Have you seen the Western Conference?

    • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson

      Your point is taken and I’ve tried to soften the statement.
      In my opinion, there’s no point comparing the West and the East: the West is a much tougher division and will likely dominate the East for years to come.
      It seems like the “super stars” land in the East while the gritty guys land in the West. For me, Boston is the only “Western” team in the East, which says enough.

      • Andrew

        Completely agree with you on that front. The league would be a lot more entertaining (at least the East would be) if more balance were struck across the two conferences. I’m sure many would not agree with me, but the West IMO is a million times more entertaining. Love watching the physical brand of hockey.

        • http://www.tipofthetower.com William Wilson

          Shea Weber: that’s all I’ll say.

    • Stan Smith

      Actually andrew he was 2nd on the leafs for a forward in hits only 8 behind kulemin. That is one of the things I like about him is despite his size he is not afraid to hit, he also is not afraid to mix it up along the boards in the offensive zone. That is one of the reasons I don’t understand anyone calling him soft. Other than being inconsistent offensively, which at 23 years old has to be expected, the only big weakness in his game is faceoffs but he appeared to get better as last season went on.

      • Andrew

        The comment had nothing to do with quantity of hits and all to do with the size of hits. These are not the same thing. Dion Phaneuf might not make as many hits as some of the aforementioned group (I really don’t care to look up, whether he does or doesn’t), but he is a big hitter. And, in terms of soft, I would say Kadri is soft in some aspects of his game. He has a tendency to be soft in his own end of the ice, soft on the puck, and he is not consistently physical. A lot of the time he is finishing his check – which I like, don’t get me wrong – and not really having an impact on the play when he lays the body.

  • A13276

    What would be the point of the Leafs signing a free agent to play in front of Kadri, the team’s 1st round draft choice, 7th overall in his draft year? Leafs critics like to have it both ways to the point of contradiction and some to the point of stupidity. “The leafs don’t develop their young players” – “the Leafs didn’t do enough in free agency to strengthen their team”. So you’d rather have Brad Richards taking minutes away from Nazem Kadri? What’s the sage team strategy there? Please. Never heard that advice/criticism being leveled against the Edmonton Oilers. RNH, picked 1st overall by the Oilers; is considered one of the Oilers “young stars” – an untouchable. Let’s see, his points per game average is .70 with virtually no demands on his defensive play which is basically non-existent. Nazem Kadri’s points per game average (under Carlyle who insists on a 200 foot game) in his past two NHL seasons as a top six centre is .70. Kadri needs to continue to play 2nd line minutes; he’s a big part of the Leafs young corps going forward. Give your head a shake!

  • D.WAdair

    Kadri will be ok