To wrap up the first week of our year-end Exit Interviews, I will take a look at the contribution made to the team by Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown and Frank Corrado. Each of these three made significantly different contributions to the Leafs this season, but all three have fans in Leaf Nation excited for how they will fit into the future of the team.
Most expect all three of these players to have an impact on the team last season, but for now I’ll be grading them on their performance in 2015-16 using our ever-popular and incredibly accurate Super-Lovely Happy Smiling Kyle Dubas system.
Here’s the thing about Nazem Kadri, he’s a very good NHL center, regardless of what certain segments of the fan base and media will tell you. He was the best forward on the Maple Leafs this season in every game that JVR was out of the lineup. After issues with coaches and management early in his career, Kadri seems to have found a fan in Mike Babcock. Relying on Kadri in almost every situation, Babcock seems to be sincere with his overwhelming praise of the young forward. Unlike with others like with others (in particular Phaneuf), Babcock’s praise of Kadri was a lot more than tire pumping to build trade value.
After coming into the league as a player that relied entirely on his natural skill, Kadri has transformed his game into one of an all-around forward that plays a game conducive to success in the NHL. It might have taken longer to get there than some would have liked, but Kadri is a player that knows what it takes to succeed at the NHL and will fit into any successful lineup.
While his point total this season was somewhat disappointing, it’s hard to fault Kadri for not producing at a level you want from your best center. He was miscast as a top center because of the lack of any other legitimate option and played the majority of the season with guys like Grabner and Komarov, two players that you’re not going to expect to rely on for much offensive help.
This is an easy one. Thanks to the big news from earlier this week, we know that Nazem Kadri is going to be a Maple Leaf for a long time. After signing a 6-year, $27 million contract on Wednesday, we now know exactly what the organization thinks of their 25-year old center. By locking up Kadri long-term at a very good average salary, the Leafs seem to be identifying Kadri as a secondary center to be a key piece in the core going forward.
Whether it’s Stamkos, Matthews, Nylander, or someone else filling the role of the top center on the team, Kadri will be there to add depth at a position that has been a weakness for almost a decade. Kadri has the skill and playing style to be a top second line center in the NHL and if by some stroke of luck the Leafs are able to find two elite centers, he add depth and versatility that any team would be envious of.
There are those that will tell you Kadri had a disappointing year, I’m not really sure what those people were watching beyond his hockeydb page. Kadri led a bad team in scoring while playing with wingers that belong either in a bottom-6 or in the AHL. He played a game that contributed to team success well beyond the basic production statistics. Add to that his uncharacteristically low shooting percentage and it’s not a stretch to think that Kadri’s production is due for a huge jump next season. He did everything his coach asked of him and is growing into a bit of a leadership role on what promises to be a very young team next season. Aside from his bad suspensions this year, I’m not sure there is much more we could have asked from Kadri.
It’s no secret that I am far less bullish on Connor Brown than a lot of Leafs Nation. He’s exceeded expectations at every level and while I’m still not certain he’ll be an impact player at the NHL level, I honestly hope I’m wrong because he’s a great story and would fit in really well with the rest of the core that will be graduating from the Marlies.
After an incredible rookie season in the AHL last year, Brown missed a large chunk of 2015-16 with a leg injury. Once recovered, Brown didn’t take along to pick up where he left off. Brown has looked great in the second half of the Marlies season and was able to hold his own during his seven-game NHL tryout. With six points in the seven games (three on one night) Brown showed an ability at times to look like he’s figuring out what it will take for him to stick at the NHL level.
He looked really good at times but also outclassed at others, it’s fair to chalk that up to the rookie learning curve and expect that he can continue to grow with more playing time.
From the way the coaches and management were talking at the end of the year, it sounds like Connor Brown is expected to be a key piece of the NHL lineup starting in training camp next season. Depending on the additions made this offseason, he could find himself as a key part of the roster next season assuming he continues the same grown trajectory.
The issue I have with automatically assuming Brown will be a key part of the Leafs long-term is that he doesn’t necessarily have the skill set to be a top-6 forward on a good team and while he would look pretty good as a third line depth scoring option, guys like Soshnikov, Hyman and Leipsic, might be better suited for that role. We’ll wait to see what moves are made this offseason, but beyond all else it would be great to see Brown live out that role of ‘late round steal’.
It’s hard to grade a player on only six games, but for every game in which Brown didn’t look ready or able to play at the NHL level, he had a good one and produced points. It’s incomplete but he gets a passing grade.
Like with Connor Brown, Corrado’s season is a little hard to judge given that he didn’t play a ton of games. After being picked up on waivers from Vancouver, many believed that the Leafs pulled off a coup by acquiring a very underrated defender for nothing. Then the season started and Corrado found himself in the press box night after night. Playing in only five games before February, it looked as though Mike Babcock simply wasn’t a fan of the defender that grew up in Toronto with the dream of playing for the Maple Leafs.
Once a few trades happened and the injury bug hit, Corrado found himself in the lineup every night and for the most part he didn’t disappoint. He looked decent in limited minutes and showed that he has the capability of being an NHL defender, even if it’s only in a bottom pair role. He ended up playing almost half a season and contributed only six points in his 39 games.
Watching Corrado there, you can see the potential. He’s only 23 and is the kind of defenseman that you can see growing with the young core. The fact that he shoots right is a definite positive for where he fits into the organization’s depth chart. With the anticipation of the Leafs adding a defender or two in the offseason, Corrado might in tough fighting for a role with the team next season.
His future with the organization took a huge hit at the deadline when the team acquired Connor Carrick who is a more well-rounded version of Corrado. Corrado is the type of player that you definitely don’t want to cut ties with too early but if the team is looking to be a lot better next season it might be hard to find a spot for him in the lineup. That said, entering next season with a bottom pair of Corrado and Marincin wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.
Like with Brown, Corrado’s grade is hard to pin down because it’s somewhat incomplete. He looked good at times but like any young player he also had his poor moments and averaging only 14 minutes a game over 39 games makes it hard to have a true impact on a team.