TORONTO– The way Nazem Kadri stepped his game up in the last two weeks won’t make his life as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization any easier.
“I said it to him, ‘boy you’ve really screwed yourself now,” said Toronto Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins. “You showed us once again how well you can play and that’s your bench mark.”
After being a healthy scratch against the Texas Stars on Nov. 9th, Kadri has responded with two goals and 11 points in five games and recently picked up AHL player-of-the-week honors.
Prior to sitting out, the 22-year-old had just three assists in nine games and, despite getting some scoring chances, he wasn’t playing up to Eakins’ expectations.
“It was a matter of me not putting the puck in the back of the net,” said Kadri about spending a game in the press box. “It’s a big part of my game. I have to be a guy to produce and put stats on a score sheet.”
“His play was off,” added Eakins. “There was a time he was going through the game and getting a ton of chances and wasn’t being rewarded and then he went through a couple games when there just wasn’t any chances.”
The former first round draft selection made it clear that he and his coach have a “healthy” relationship, but the benching didn’t sit well with Kadri. But, he understood.
“I’m not really too happy about it, not something I enjoy,” said Kadri about sitting in the stands. “Not like I’m going to go sit around and pout about it (though). I’m going to come back and have a statement game. I’m just trying to do the best I can and I’m starting to get a few bounces.”
Kadri’s “statement game” came one night later when he scored his first goal of the season and added two assists in a 5-3 win against the San Antonio Rampage.
“It’s a different perspective watching from the stands and it seems so easy from up there,” said Kadri. “The game of hockey is about analyzing so I took some notes.”
Kadri also had a big game on Saturday when Toronto beat the Hamilton Bulldogs 6-1. He setup four goals and earned the game’s first star.
“I’ve showed at each level I can (score), but sometimes I’m a pass-first guy,” said Kadri. “Sometimes I wish I could change that a little bit but I’m looking for the open guy.”
Part of Kadri’s recent success is also coming from the chemistry he’s found alongside Keith Aucoin. Kadri setup both of Aucoin’s goals against the Bulldogs and has been lining up on the left side while the veteran plays centre.
Both players have 14 points, which is tied for the team-lead alongside defenceman Mike Kostka.
“He’s a great player, we go well together,” said Kadri about Aucoin. “He knows how to be a pro, he’s been with different organizations, up and down, so I’m just trying to learn as much as possible.”
Perhaps Kadri’s benching was needed to spark his scoring, or it may have just been coincidence. Either way, what he’s done in the last five games is closer to the expectations than the way he played earlier in the season and Eakins is pleased with the way his season has quickly turned around.
“The great thing about Naz is he’s such a competitive kid,” said Eakins. “Every night he plays, he’s a top-three competitive guy on our team and he responded well.”