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Kid Kadri looks to crack the Leafs lineup this season

Sep 17, 2011, 1:10 AM EDT

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Up until this point, the most memorable part of Nazem Kadri’s career is when Leafs GM Brian Burke asked Senators GM Bryan Murray who he was going to take in the 2009 Entry Draft—only to shoot him down on national television. He hopes to change all that this season as he aims to put his best foot forward during Toronto’s training camp this month. There aren’t many spots up for grabs this season after the Leafs acquired the likes of Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly this offseason. Kadri knows that he’ll need to step up his game if he wants to impress management and earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster this year.

The 20-year-old forward appeared in 29 total games for the Leafs last season. He played in 17 games in November/December before he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies to refine his game—due in large part because he only collected two assists in the final month before demoted. The former seventh overall pick played better when management brought him up for another look in mid-March. He collected three goals and three assists in 12 games to finish the 2010-11 campaign. The cup of coffee with the big club gave him all the motivation he needed for the offseason:

“I’m coming in expecting there to be zero jobs left and for me to steal one,” Kadri said. “Obviously (to get demoted) would be extremely disappointing. I want to be a regular 82-plus-playoff games player in the NHL. That’s why I worked so hard this summer — to prove a point.

“Now I what to show everybody that I’m here to stay.”

It’s good that Kadri is coming into camp with a certain sense of desperation because management isn’t messing around this week. The team is bringing in about 70 players—but most of them better not get too comfortable. Ron Wilson told QMI that the cuts are going to come fast and furious for the first week as the trim the roster to a manageable number:

“What I’ve stressed with management, when Wednesday rolls around, we’re going to be down to 40 guys,” Wilson said Friday at the MasterCard Centre where the team reported for physical testing. “By next weekend, we’ll be down to 26 or 27 players.

“I’m cutting right through all the B.S., and getting right down to the NHL players. I’m not worried about where we are going to be in two or three years. My primary responsibility is this year and getting off to a quick start.”

No pressure there. Have a bad day and you could be gone. Then again, for anyone who’s going to play a full season in Toronto, they should get used to that kind of daily scrutiny. Rumor has it the Toronto media judges swiftly and harshly.

As far as Kadri goes, a spot on the Leafs should be his to lose. The left wing spot on the 3rd line is waiting to be claimed and Kadri’s speed would be a welcomed asset in any capacity. But just as important as his skill set is the way he is viewed by management. There’s no question they want the high draft pick to make the team and succeed. The Leafs prospect pool has been improving over the last couple of season and Kadri is the best of the lot.

If he can prove that he belongs on the team, it will look good for the rest of their mini-redevelopment project.

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