March 30, 2015
TORONTO– Nazem Kadri firmly believes that prospect William Nylander will benefit from the time he spends with the Toronto Marlies.
And the Maple Leafs centre can speak from experience.
“Being the highest drafted pick (for Toronto) expectations are high, that can be a bit much for a young guy to handle,” said Kadri.
“But he needs to understand he’s in a great situation, great organization that cares about the young players. Really all he has to do is focus on playing hockey, getting better, getting stronger as he gets older.”
Being in a similar situation not so long ago, a high draft pick developing his skills for an organization going through a rebuild, Kadri has an understanding about the process Nylander could go through as a young guy in the system.
Nylander, selected eighth in the 2014 NHL Draft, is currently Toronto’s highest-touted prospect— something Kadri carried the label of when the club took him seventh in 2009.
Kadri, now 24, spent parts of three seasons grooming his game with the AHL club before finally carving out a spot with the Leafs.
He experienced highs— like league awards for his play and a run to a Calder Cup final in 2012. But he also experienced lows— such as healthy scratches, questioning about his conditioning and the realization his skill set needed to evolve to cut it at the next level.
“Turned me into a man, so to speak,” Kadri said about his time with the Marlies. “It allowed me to play with older guys, understand the physicality of the game, grinding it out and understanding that every step is a step in the right direction.”
A natural centre, Kadri even spent time on the left wing under former Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins to expand his role with the team. Nylander, who also grew up playing down the middle, is currently playing the left side under current Marlies head coach Gord Dineen.
“You have to adjust, know both roles,” said Kadri.
“Whatever the coach needs me to play I’ll play,” said Nylander.
Toronto has emphasized its forward plan with its prospects and it includes staying patient rather than throwing them into the big show. Kadri was summoned and sent down numerous times through his run with the Marlies under prior management and it took its toll on him at times. Often he believed he was ready to stay with the Leafs, but in hindsight he knows his time in the minors was a benefit for the organization and himself. The London, Ont. native played 119 games for the Marlies and had 43 goals and 107 points before finally cracking the Leafs lineup for good.
“At the time you feel some frustration and anger but down the line you understand that it was the right decision to make,” Kadri said about being kept in the minors. “Maybe you could have hopped in sooner but the time in the American league will never hurt you.”
Nylander, who at 18 years of age has a two-year head start on Kadri in pro hockey, is having a very respectable rookie campaign with the Marlies after arriving from Modo in January.
On Sunday he scored a goal and an assist as Toronto beat the Rochester Americans 4-3. He now has eight goals and 19 points in 27 games. His .70 point per game pace is third best on the team and ranks in the top five for all players his age to ever suit up in the AHL.