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Should the Maple Leafs be more patient with prospect Nazem Kadri?

Sep 24, 2010, 3:15 PM EDT

nazemkadriunderpressure.jpgPressure can bring out the best in an athlete, but it can also be a very negative thing too. Especially for a young player still trying to learn how to adjust to all of the challenges that come with making the jump to the professional level.

You cannot find a bigger pressure cooker for a young hockey player than Toronto. The team has been an absolute mess since the lockout and haven’t had much young star power to cling to. (Just look at how Luke Schenn is going from an overly praised talent to someone who is starting to drop out of favor among the Maple Leafs.)

This explains all of the hysteria regarding 2009 first round draft pick Nazem Kadri’s tough times. Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun points out that Kadri was demoted from a line alongside NHL-level additions Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg to a combination of minor league-level players. He adds this very troubling quote from Leafs coach Ron Wilson and makes a hypothesis about Kadri’s struggles.

With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell all in the fight for centre spots, Kadri has been less effective than all of hem.

“He needs to realize the battle he’s in,” Wilson said after the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We’re not giving him the job. He has to outperform at least two or three of those four to earn a spot.”

[snip]

The KADRI QUANDARY

So what gives with the player that looked so offensively gifted a year ago? No fire. No flash. No fury. Kadri is clearly playing tentatively, which stifles his offensive skill. Case in point: On a first-period two-on-one, rather than taking a clear open shot, Kadri dished off to Versteeg with a telegraph pass that was far too late … Wilson has no choice but to look at options now. Versteeg has been flying in both of his pre-season games and can no longer be held back. Armstrong, meanwhile, is as advertised — a guy who will go in the corner and get the puck and needs to have a useful centre. To that end, changes are coming, starting with Friday’s return match with the Flyers. For one game anyway, Versteeg is likely to move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin shifts to a unit with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur … For most of the third period, Tim Brent replaced Kadri between Armstrong and Versteeg … Wilson on Kadri’s better play in the third: “Maybe when I didn’t have him on (that line), it lit a fire under his rear end and he realized I’m serious and I’m not going to wait for him to get going.” … Naz on Naz: “By all means I haven’t made the team yet. I’m not expecting anyone to just give me the silver spoon and just hand me a job.”

While many people are growing quite pessimistic about Kadri, noted Edmonton Oilers blogger Lowetide turns the tables and critiques the Maple Leafs for their impatience with young prospects.

I think Kadri will be a good player. He’s gritty, clearly has skill and could develop into a quality 2-way player. But not with Toronto. They get so damn impatient with these kids. It’s pretty fricking strange that they can’t figure it out, but there it is in all its glory. In the next 5 years, we’ll see Kadri struggle, get sent down and sent away for less than 100 cents on the dollar. Look at Luke Schenn, failing down the depth chart and perhaps one summer from being flushed. Rask, Steen, Colaiacovo, Boyes and on it goes.

Ouch, I imagine Leafs fans squirm any time they read the name “Tuukka Rask.” Then again, sometimes you need to learn the hard way, so perhaps Brian Burke and Wilson should take caution with a player who might just need a little breathing room and seasoning in the minors.

The problem is that patience isn’t found in large quantities when it comes to the Leafs.

  1. Matt - Sep 24, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    Why exactly is that quote from Wilson so troubling? Doesn’t it support your belief that he and Burke should exercise caution with regards to Naz? Not sure if I really know what you’re trying to say here.
    Also, Luke Schenn isn’t suddenly falling out of favor with the Maple Leafs. He is currently being praised by coaches, management and fans for his improvement in play in the second half of last season and this years preseason thus far. If you read one Toronto based article or watched a game you would know this.
    Maybe if you were a real journalist instead of just a blogger, you would have a leg to stand on. Instead you bash Toronto just like everybody else does because it’s the easy thing to do.

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