TORONTO– When Nazem Kadri was re-assigned to the Toronto Marlies in late October, head coach Dallas Eakins wasn’t pleased with the production from the young Leafs prospect.
But 17 games later, and an American Hockey League player of the month award for November now in place, things are a little different.
“I’ll tell you what; it’s night and day from when he arrived,” said Eakins. “The first six games I was reeling a little bit. He was back to square one. I think a lot had to do with his injury and fitness level so we ramped him up a little bit in that category.”
Kadri is on a current eight-game point streak and has moved into a tie with Mike Zigomanis and Marcel Mueller atop the Marlies scoring leaders. At the pace he’s scoring, he will likely be the outright leader before the new year comes.
He’s showing for the second year in a row, that the AHL is a level he can indeed compete at and, to some people his numbers prove he’s ready for another call-up.
There’s just one problem.
“Naz knows there’s a process. He knows he has to be patient,” said Eakins. “He knows the big clubs winning and he knows they’re in a great spot and they’re not in a big hurry to fill a hole up there. This isn’t, come down and play three great games and see you later. This is, let’s put together 10 good games. And you know what, he’s done it.”
It’s true, on both parts.
He has played great and is a force on almost every shift but, with the Leafs still playing quality hockey, there is no need to push Kadri back into the NHL. Fact is his original call-up this time last year was out of desperation and in a sense backfired on the then 20 year old. Plus, the Leafs have never used him in a role that he was drafted to play, and that is with his focus on producing offensively.
A big difference with his role on the Marlies is that he’s allowed to create offence, and at many times, proves his skill level is higher than most players out on the ice.
“I don’t want to take this kid’s skill away from him and I never will,” said Eakins about the extended leash Kadri has to play on in the minors. “I actually need him to turnover pucks every once and a while. I need him to use his skill. He’s going to turn over pucks. We just want to limit it. In the end we want him to recognize danger and have a good feel when he’s coming through the neutral zone.”
Eakins actually believes that Kadri has so much skill that his biggest issue might be that he makes the game too difficult for himself and needs to simplify.
“A lot of the times the thing’s were asking him to do are too easy,” said Eakins. “Great example; late in the game he enters the zone over the blue line. We want to get the puck deep. He could have just chipped it deep and skated around the defenceman but he decides he’ll go in, pull up and put it deep on his back hand around the man’s back. The first play was too easy for him. His skill level’s so high so it’s one of those things we have to show him on the video.”
Regardless, Kadri has an offensive side to his game that more than makes up for his lack of talent in other zones of the ice. Eakins, along with Gord Dineen and Derek King will keep working with the prospect to improve everything he needs to round out his game but when it’s time to be called back up, Eakins hopes the roller coaster ride up and down will be done for good.
“Hopefully next time his call-up comes it’s not hey he’s up and will I ever see him down again? It’s see you Naz and maybe I’ll see you kicking around the Air Canada Centre one day.”