Nazem Kadri grew up wanting nothing less than to be a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the NHL was always his dream, his sights were originally set on the bleu, blanc, et rouge of the Montreal Canadiens. But when Brian Burke decided that drafting him was going to be the best way to get a good player while annoying as many people as possible, the tables turned. Suddenly, he had a new and unlikely favourite team, and six years later, he might be the best player in blue and white.
We’ve already mentioned that Kadri grew up as a Habs fan, so let’s talk about the good hockey he played rather than the bad hockey he watched. Kadri made the jump to Minor Midget in 2005/06 with the London Junior Knights, and put up an insane 49 goals and 43 assists in 62 games, among the best on his team. It was enough to get him noticed by the Kitchener Rangers, who picked him two spots ahead of his hometown team. To date, Kadri has scored the fourth-most NHL points of anybody in the draft class, trailing only Adam Henrique, Michael Del Zotto, Alex Pietrangelo, and Steven Stamkos. Kadri has a higher points/game than the first three, and, well, Stamkos will be a Leaf soon enough.
Kadri’s minutes were limited in his first season, but he picked up a respectable (for a 16-year-old) 22 points in 62 games with the Rangers. The hype machine really began in his second year, however, where he put up 65 points in 68 games on a stacked Kitchener roster, who ended up winning the OHL Championship before losing the Memorial Cup Final. Kadri was an instrumental part of their playoff run, scoring 26 points in 20 playoff games, outscoring Mikel Boedker despite being a year younger.
Ahead of his draft year, Kadri was traded to his hometown London Knights. Looking to make a big push, Knights GM (and now Leafs assistant GM) Mark Hunter traded a pair of second-round picks and a third for the seventeen-year-old, and immediately reaped the rewards. Kadri further improved his production to 78 points in 56 games, leading the team in scoring and finishing second in points per game to John Tavares, who was acquired mid-season and had a stature similar to what we’re presently seeing with Connor McDavid. Kadri once again lit it up in the playoffs, putting up 21 points in 14 games, though the Knights’ run was shorter lived.
Despite a strong pre-season, the Leafs sent Kadri back to London for one more victory lap, at which point he proceeded to make a mockery of the league. In the same 56 games, he upped his production to 93 points, while adding a physical edge to his game. He also represented Canada at the World Juniors, picking up a silver medal and producing at an over point-per-game rate. Come playoff time, this Knights roster wasn’t quite as prepared for prime time as the year before, but that didn’t stop Kadri from dragging them, kicking and screaming, as far as he could. In twelve games, he put up an insane 27 points, finishing fourth in scoring despite his team being eliminated in the second round.
From there, it became time to hop into the pros. Ron Wilson was not a huge fan of Kadri’s two-way play, and as such, sent him back to the AHL whenever he could. For two seasons, Kadri averaged about a third of a point per game in the NHL and about a point per game in the AHL, playing in stupendously different situations. Kadri’s strong performances in the minors continued into his third professional season, and when the NHL returned from a half-season lockout, he had an opportunity to stick with the team as their second line centre.
From there, he never looked back. While his 44 point in 48 game run in 2012/13 proved to be laughably unsustainable and PDO-driven at the time, Kadri has been one of the team’s best rate-based point producers since. Despite not getting top line minutes, he’s proven to be a safe bet for 20 goals and 30 assists over the course of a full season. This summer, he signed a one-year bridge contract for $4.1 million, putting the pressure on him to show his true potential this year.
What to Expect in 2015/16
It’s hard to say right now, as it looks like the Leafs will, at least for now, continue to use Tyler Bozak on the top line. How those minutes are divided will dictate Kadri’s production moving forward; he could remain a 45-50 point player who you rely on to contribute in small doses, or he could force his way onto the first line, grab significant minutes, and blossom into the 65-75 point player that everyone has always hoped of him.
The ball is in a blended court right now; it’s up to him to earn it, and Mike Babcock to act upon it. We’ll see where this goes.
- 2007/08 OHL Champion (Kitchener Rangers)
- 2007/08 Memorial Cup Finalist (Kitchener Rangers)
- 2008/09 CHL Top Prospects Game
- 2009/10 OHL All-Star Game, Second All-Star Team
- 2009/10 World Junior Championships Silver Medal, Canada
- 2011/12 AHL Player of the Month, November
- 2013/14 Representative of Team Canada, World Championships
You knew that something good was going to come out of selecting him when this goal happened.
Kadri’s second best hat trick of the season, though the fact it was against the Sens made it just as great.
This is why the above was the second best; that third goal was just something else.
The game ended after this goal. Don’t tell me otherwise.