TORONTO- There was no time for a vacation this off-season for forward Nazem Kadri.
Looking to solidify a full-time spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs, after two full seasons of shuffling up and down with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the 21-year-old joined trainer, and former NHLer, Gary Roberts this summer to improve his strength and off-ice conditioning. Kadri spent six days a week for nine weeks with Roberts and admits it wasn’t easy, but was well worth his efforts.
“It was tough, pretty vigorous training,” said Kadri. “It was a hard summer for me. I went Monday to Saturday up at six in the morning every single day. I definitely put in the time this year.”
The 2009 first-round pick joined Roberts in early July. Because of a shoulder separation caused in last season’s playoffs, which is now 100% healed, Kadri and Roberts spent a serious amount of dedication working on the lower body. According to Kadri, it’s paid off.
“I think my lower-body strength is at a completely different level right now,” said Kadri. “Physically I look the best I’ve looked coming into camp. I’m lean and legs feel strong.”
Overhead squats, lateral squats and dumb bell routines were just some of the examples Kadri gave as to what exactly Roberts had him doing in the gym. He was also put on a “strict nutritional plan” that helped him trim down to a lean 183 pounds.
“Not much fat on me right now, which is ideally what I wanted.”
Roberts, who was always dedicated to fitness during his NHL career, has been praised for the work he has done recently with hockey players and their conditioning. Steven Stamkos, Jeff Skinner and Cody Hodgson all swear by Roberts and, now, so does Kadri.
“He knows what he’s doing,” said Kadri. “I think I needed extra help. Not that I wasn’t doing the right things previously, because I felt like I was, but he’s been around and knows what to do. He’s educated on all the muscle groups and how to strengthen them. I needed his professionalism.”
Kadri also took up yoga classes at the advice of Roberts and feels more flexible after just a few sessions.
Two seasons ago Kadri was requested by the Leafs organization to get stronger, but when he started working out more off the ice he also got bigger and was knocked for losing some of his speed. That’s not something he’s concerned with this time.
“Speed’s my game,” he said. “When I try to pack on too many pounds it affects the way I skate. I’m not a guy that’s going to sit at 195 or 200 pounds. I focused on just getting stronger and I like the 182-185 point.”
The past two seasons, Kadri has played 143 regular season games, but only 51 with the Leafs. His production with the big club (eight goals 19 points) has been limited as those 51 games were spread out over six call-ups that had him mostly playing bottom-six minutes. With the Marlies, however, he has 81 points in 92 games and at times showed he was the most skilled player on the ice. To improve his numbers and earn a spot at the NHL level, though, it isn’t skating drills or shooting at targets that will make the difference anymore.
“I had to dedicate myself off the ice and that’s exactly what I did this summer.”