Heading into the 2014-2015 season, young centreman Nazem Kadri has his eyes on a new role with the Toronto Maple Leafs: he wants to anchor the team’s first line, playing between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
May 13, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri (43), right wing Phil Kessel (81) and Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk (21)celebrate a goal during the third period in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Kadri recently talked about the goal during a radio interview to promote CCM’s new Resistance Helmet.
In discussing the goal, Kadri acknowledged it might create some tension with teammate Tyler Bozak, who currently fills the centre role on the first line. Kadri said he and Bozak are close friends and added the friendly competition could only help them and the team.
“Me and [Bozak] work well together, we’re great friends. In order for this team to be successful, we’re going to need both of us. So it’s not like you’re picking one or the other. It’s probably a 1A and 1B thing,” Kadri told the radio interviewer.
“But one of my goals, as I mature and get stronger and become more familiar with the league, I want to be one of the best players in the league,” he continued. “Not just on our team. I think that’s a very realistic goal for myself. Now when that expectation is going to come is a different story.”
The Canuck Way
Leafs fans are very familiar with Kadri’s long-promised potential. However, they’re also well aware of his bouts of inconsistency.
During the shortened 2012-2013 season, Kadri was within shooting distance of point-per-point status, but he failed to repeat this feat last season, recording 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists) across 78 games. It’s not clear if the longer schedule played a part in the decline or if the Leafs’ inability to find him a permanent home is responsible.
Kadri noted in the interview the difficulty of moving around a lot on the team’s lines: “That’s something that was really challenging, especially for a centreman who typically has to have some chemistry with his players.”
Over the years, the Leafs have used Kadri in multiple places, from leading the first line in Bozak’s absence to anchoring the third line during his own struggles. For many Leafs fans, it’s not clear if we’ve seen the real Kadri to date.
Jan 30, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) and forward Tyler Bozak (42) come off the bench after a win over the Florida Panthers at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Florida 6-3. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
One thing working in Kadri’s favour is his ability to improve over time and meet new expectations. Three seasons ago, he was often criticized for being soft, but that changed this past season: he finished seventh in hits (141) on the team and many of these hits were of the high-impact variety.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, Kadri is a better centreman on paper than Bozak, but there are still several areas of growth needed in his game. One of Kadri’s biggest weaknesses concerns faceoffs where he continues to struggle at times despite getting generally favourable matchups. The team is reluctant to use him in their own end, which says a lot.
Assuming Kadri can continue improving in this area of the game and others, he’s the easy bet to land the top centreman job on the Leafs one day. Is the team willing to wait, however? Over the past few off-seasons, we’ve heard endless talk about the Leafs’ search for a top centreman. This search might continue until Kadri, Bozak or someone else (William Nylander?) on the team proves himself worthy of the title.
This season could go a long way towards deciding where Kadri ultimately lands in a Leafs uniform. He wants the top line job and it’s his to own if everything continues moving in the right direction for him.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.