After years of scrutiny and criticism, especially under the Carlyle/Nonis era, Nazem Kadri has really developed into an excellent NHL centre, and has evolved his game to both ends of the ice under Mike Babcock. While never really getting his chance to prove himself as a 1C, nor will he now that Auston Matthews is in town, Kadri has proved himself to be a high-end shutdown forward, who can also put up points.
He’s come a long way from being a “first round bust”, but he’s finally arrived, and it’s time to enjoy him. And we can, because he’s locked up for five more years!
First off, let’s touch on his offence. Kadri finished the season with a career-high 61 points in a three-way tie for third with William Nylander and Mitch Marner. But more importantly, he finished the year with 32 goals, also a career-high, which put him in second on the team behind Matthews. The one obvious cause for concern was that Kadri shot 13.6%, but it’s not totally abnormal for him, with his career average being 11.2%. He’s even shot at this rate in another season, as he had a 13.5% in his 20 goal 2013-14 season. Obviously, this spike in shooting percentage was expected from him considering his 6.5% season in 2015-16, but it’s safe to presume that he’s probably not hitting 30 unless his shot rates increase.
Another strength to Kadri’s game is his ability to put shots on net. In the last two seasons, he’s put up shots at a rate of 10.88 and 9.99 per 60 minutes, a rate that puts him 21st in the league during that span. Babcock has given him the chance to play his game, and Kadri has excelled offensively because of it, both in terms of points and shot generation.
Defensively, he’s flourished in the shutdown role, alongside Leo Komarov and Connor Brown/William Nylander. Usually tasked with taking on the other teams top centres, Kadri has done an excellent job, as he had a 51.5% 5v5 Corsi For Close this season, and a 53.3% 5v5 Goals For Close. When the game was on the line, that seemed to be where he shined.
Although, he’s a bit unique when it comes to how he shuts down his opponents. While your typical shutdown centre will rely on their ability to suppress shots to shut down their opponents, Kadri does it by making their life a living nightmare, not only by being physical but by making his opponents play his style of hockey, that being a fast-paced hockey game. While he ranked 179th in Corsi Against per 60 among forwards with at least 500 minutes with a 59.15 rate, he also had a 62.76 Corsi For per 60, which ranked 47th. So, he doesn’t necessarily shut down his opposition, but he more so outplays them.
Kadri’s biggest flaw would have to be his aforementioned shot suppression. While his strong ability to generate shots makes it less of a problem, you’d certainly expect a better performance defensively from your shutdown centre.
The same goes with regards of his faceoffs. While I am on team “faceoffs are overrated”, I still think they have a factor, and as a player getting a lot of defensive zone starts, starting out with the puck in your own zone is a lot better than not starting out with it. While 47.97% isn’t terrible (the difference between that and 52.97%, which is considered a great faceoff rate, is 1 more faceoff win for every 20 faceoffs), it could improve. This is nitpicking an otherwise great player, but it would make him an even better player.
Finally, Kadri’s discipline was abnormally bad for a player who was well documented as an elite penalty drawer. This is a weakness of his, but it’s also not his fault. It’s quite documented that Kadri seemed to have a lot of calls go against him, whether it be him getting weak calls, or having some drawn penalties missed by the refs. He even had a drawn penalty called back. The refs weren’t giving him anything this year, partly because of his reputation with drawing penalties. While I wouldn’t put Kadri’s lack of discipline on him, it’s certainly something that should improve next year.
Barring drastic changes to the Leafs forward group, I’d expect Kadri to be put in a similar role next season. Babcock will probably look to give him the tough minutes, and Kadri will probably perform similarly to this year. We may even see him improve if he works on his ability to suppress shots, but defensively we should see a similar Nazem Kadri.
Offensively, I don’t think we’ll see Kadri put up numbers as good as this season’s, but I also don’t think he’ll see them go down drastically either. If his shot rates continue, I’d expect him to put up somewhere around 25 goals, although I wouldn’t be shocked to see his assist totals go up, especially considering the offensive talent he’ll be surrounded by. He might hit 60 points again, but I think it will be more due to his playmaking than his goal scoring.
While I don’t think we’ll ever see Kadri dominate the league offensively like he did in juniors, he’s shown that he could potentially dominate in another regard, as a premier shutdown centre. He has a bit more work to do to get there, but he certainly isn’t far.