TORONTO- Two seasons ago Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins expressed to Nazem Kadri that simplifying the little things on the ice would improve his overall game.
Not every cut across the blue line needed a toe drag, one-on-two’s were a time to dump the puck in for a line change and the neutral zone wasn’t an area to dazzle with the puck.
And it seems the 22-year-old grasps this concept as he’s now in his third season of pro hockey.
“There’s a time and a place,” said Kadri. “One of my strengths is creativity and it’s something I strive on in the offensive zone. The neutral zone you have to play it safe and I can’t remember the last true turnover I had so that’s a good thing.”
Eakins is quite pleased with how far the former first-round pick has come in terms of not trying to force what isn’t there. Kadri has been a much more responsible player lately in all three zones of the ice, however it seems as if he may be holding back too much as seen in his last outing against the Hamilton Bulldogs.
“He’s come such a long way in that department,” said Eakins about Kadri simplifying. “In our last game we were actually thinking the other way. We thought Naz was chipping too many pucks in and could have been more creative. It used to always be the other way and now the last game we’re saying, ‘I wish he would have tried that guy.’ He’s getting too responsible and we need to push him to use his skill.”
Kadri entered the Leafs’ organization in 2009 as a natural centre, but has seen time on the left and right wing with both the Leafs and Marlies.
Most recently he’s played on a line with veterans Mike Zigomanis and Ryan Hamilton and with Zigomanis being the club’s face-off specialist, many shifts have been spent lining up on the right side.
This isn’t something that Eakins believes is an issue.
“The players now, the way the game’s played, they line up at their positions when the puck drops and then after that you play wherever you are on the ice.” Said Eakins. “It’s about numbers. For me it doesn’t matter where Naz plays. That’s the one thing that’s not talked about a whole lot. They’re just filling holes.”
Shifting positions and filling holes sounds easy enough, but Kadri knows there’s more to it and has had to learn ways to succeed at centre and the wing.
“You have to adjust, know both roles,” said Kadri. “You can get scrambled and that’s why you need communication and attention to detail.”
Scoring chances have been there periodically, which keeps Kadri confident in his abilities, but in six games this season he has three assists and is still looking for his first goal.
“I could score two, three goals in a game so it’s just a matter of bearing down and burying my chances,” said Kadri. “I’d be worried if I wasn’t getting chances but the stats sheet doesn’t tell you everything. Once I start getting my bounces it’ll keep coming.”
It seems what Kadri needs to do is find a balance between when to turn it on and make something happen, and when to slow down and recognize when the simple play should be made. While the team wants him to be accountable everywhere on the ice, they also still need him to produce offensively and use the same skill he showed when Toronto drafted him seventh overall.
“One thing I don’t want to do to any player, especially Naz, is take away his skill,” said Eakins. “If a coach takes away a player’s skill, boy you’re in trouble.”