TORONTO– When Nazem Kadri was re-assigned to the Toronto Marlies for the first time last season, it was because of turnovers, a lack of back checking and not being quite strong enough physically.
When he was sent down the second time, he was questioned if the weight he put on from strengthening with the Toronto Maple Leafs conditioning staff may have actually slowed him down.
So this past October, after being shifted to the wing upon entering the organization as a centre, he was demoted for a third time. Sure his productivity was still having difficulties and the turnovers were still happening (much less than in the past), but it wasn’t his play that cost him a spot on the team; at least that’s what he was told.
“When I got sent down last they were happy with the way I was playing,” said Kadri. “It was more of a body situation. So they just told me keep working hard and that’s what I am doing.”
Regardless of why the 21 year old hasn’t been able to stick it out with the big club, after spending his rookie season on a long ride of ups and downs, changing of positions and criticism, he’s still self assured that playing for the Leafs is where he should be.
“When I came back down I was a little disappointed but I realize I have to work hard ,” he said. “You can look at (the demotion) as discouraging but I look at myself as a mentally tough person and I have thick skin. I know what I’m capable of and I know what I can do and I know I can make a fair contribution to that team.”
In 33 total games with the Leafs, Kadri has put up three goals and 13 points where as with the Toronto Marlies, he’s scored 18 goals and 48 points in 52 games.
Showing he can succeed at the AHL level continues to keep him and the organization optimistic that he will find a permanent role with the Leafs. But, unlike the year he was drafted, he is no longer the only prospect with potential.
Matt Frattin, who earned the most recent call up, and Joe Colborne both joined the Marlies after Kadri, yet they have had more success in a shorter period of time.
Does the addition of quality prospects make it more difficult to play in the NHL?
“Maybe a little bit,” said Kadri. “But I think if you ask any single guy in the NHL they’d say the same thing. There are lots of young guys trying to take your spot and it’s a vicious cycle. But it’s healthy competition that you thrive off of,”
In the eight games he’s played as a current member of the Marlies, Kadri has one goal and seven points. Four of those points, including an overtime goal on Sunday have come in the last three games.
While his offence seems to be picking up, at this point of the season it will likely have to be an injury that gets him re-called to the Leafs. How he gets back doesn’t matter to him though, especially because he’s assertively trying to play for the Leafs again this season.
“Yeah I see it happening. I wouldn’t rule it out,” he said. “I do honestly think I can make a difference and be an impact. I feel I’m stronger physically, below the circle, spinning off checks and staying on my feet.”
With each assignment to the Marlies and the addition of depth to the organization, the spotlight is slowly turning to other players. But, if anyone believes in Kadri, it’s Kadri himself. And at this point, that’s a good thing.
“At the end of the day my main goal is to play in the NHL and I’m not going stop until it’s accomplished”