TORONTO- Nazem Kadri wants a bigger role next season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“Expectations (next season) are going to be higher and I think from day one I’ve never stopped believing,” said Kadri. “I want to be a go-to guy they can count on, a guy who can really lead the way on the ice.
“(1C) is what I’ve been working for since I was drafted. I wanted to be that Number-One centre they were looking for.”
Drafted in 2009, it took Kadri two seasons bouncing up and down from the AHL’s Marlies before finally solidifying a spot with the Maple Leafs in 2013 after the NHL lockout ended. And when he did, he broke out with 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games, which was second in team scoring and best amongst centremen, despite averaging only 16:03 of ice time per game. He also led the league in drawing penalties, both with his agility and his mouth.
“Getting off to a great start was big for me,” said Kadri about last season’s offensive output.” I came in scored a few goals and all of a sudden my confidence was through the roof. A player like me, I need confidence to bring out my full potential.”
But, even with all the positives the 22-year-old brought last season, becoming the club’s number-one centreman isn’t going to be given to him because of what he can do offensively. A major component of the role he wants that needs to be addressed is his ability to win face-offs. He was only able to win .442 percent of them in the regular season in 2013, which was worst of the club’s four every-day centremen, and he dipped to .316 percent in the post-season against the Boston Bruins.
Since early June, Kadri has been training at the Master Card Centre in Toronto, attempting to improve his game for next season. He’s skating twice a week with skating consultant Barbara Underhill, with the goal of improving his stride, while also training off the ice with conditioning coach Anthony Belza. Showing his commitment to the Leafs, Kadri is following their off-season plan unlike last summer when he trained on his own with former NHLer Gary Roberts.
“(There is) definitely nothing against Gary,” said Kadri. “He certainly knows what he’s talking about, it’s proven. The (organization) just wanted to keep a closer eye on me this year and in order to do that I had to work out with Belza more than a couple times a week. I love Gary as a guy and a professional, we’re in contact.”
At last year’s training camp, after spending nine weeks with Roberts, former Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins questioned Kadri’s body-fat level, which in Kadri’s opinion altered the start of the season because of how much media focus was on the AHL team at the time due to the NHL lockout.
“I talked to (Eakins) behind closed doors a few times and he understood it wasn’t the best thing to say, especially publically,” said Kadri. “But that was said before I even played a game. Even when I played the scrimmages I was one of the best players on the ice and it seemed the body-fat topic drifted to the centre of attention. But Dallas has always had my back since day one and our relationship will never tarnish.”
Kadri said that currently he weighs 186 pounds with a body-fat level between 10 and 10.5 percent. In comparison, Belza said that there are some players on the team closer to eight percent, however both are happy with where Kadri is at.
“I can improve on that but I think if that’s where I am for training camp I’m in a pretty good spot,” said Kadri.
As of Sunday, Kadri had yet to reach a new deal with the Leafs, leaving him a restricted free agent. But, contract talk doesn’t seem to concern the 22-year-old as he sounds ready to step up his game in September.
“I’m just trying to get to the next level that I know I can.”