The ball is in Nazem Kadri’s court now.
After a disappointing season, the embattled Maple Leafs forward is getting a fresh start after signing a one-year contract with the club over the weekend.
No pressure right, Nazem? Not so fast.
During the Maple Leafs’ hockey school for minor players on Monday, head coach Mike Babcock told media he expects Kadri to be an “elite player” next season.
From the Toronto Sun:
“I expect him to be an elite player,” Babcock said. “His training has to match his skill set.
“That (goes) for all our guys. You can’t take the summer off. I expect our best players to be our hardest-working people and set the tone. Flat-out, I’ve told them that, they understand that. This is a big two-and-a-half months for all of them.
“It (Kadri’s million-dollar raise up to $4.1 million) is a home run for him. He gets to come in, have a heck of a year and put the screws to us (in his long-sought extended deal). Why wouldn’t he? If I’m him, I’m going to come in and have the best year of my career, training the way I should, living the way I should.”
Kadri hasn’t quite lived up to expectations since the Leafs drafted him seventh overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. He’s showed flashes of brilliance — especially during the lockout-shortened season when he scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games played. But Kadri’s game away from the puck and his off-ice attitude have always been question marks for the Leafs — until now.
Kadri couldn’t get it right playing under Ron Wilson or Randy Carlyle as both coaches instilled a tough-love approach in an effort to transform the 24-year-old into a two-way player. The Leafs even suspended Kadri three games last season for breaking team rules — something he said he was “embarrassed about” and promised to learn from.
Kadri will most likely enter the season as the No. 2 centre and judging by his performance in training camp, he could compete for the No. 1 job with Tyler Bozak (assuming he’s still with the team come September).
According to Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry, this is Kadri’s last shot at proving his critics wrong. Cherry went on another Twitter rant on Monday, claiming if Kadri doesn’t have a good season under Babcock, “he’s toast.”