Nazem Kadri was Brian Burke’s first draft pick as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, taken seventh overall in 2009. Kadri was one of the top forwards in the OHL when he was drafted with high-end offensive skill, and he gave Leafs Nation hope for the future. It has only been three seasons since that draft, but many “experts” are already labeling him a bust and they believe he will never make an impact at the NHL level.
Can this really be it for Kadri?
Nazem has played 51 games over the past three years, mustering just 19 points. There have been 23 players from the 2009 draft that have played more games with their NHL clubs than Kadri and each player taken ahead of him has made a significant impact. This alone is enough to question whether he will be able to take his game to the next level.
One of the big questions on Kadri has been whether he will be a center or a winger at the NHL level.
Kadri played center in junior and, for the most part, he has done the same while playing with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. However, he has almost exclusively been a winger in his stints with the Maple Leafs.
This is actually quite puzzling considering that the Maple Leafs have been searching for a top-end center since the departure of Mats Sundin. Clearly the organization does not feel that Kadri is the answer, or maybe that was just Ron Wilson’s belief?
Wilson, a former Leaf head coach, was clearly not a fan of Kadri’s. Wilson would call him out on a regular basis when he was with the big club and he would give Kadri much less rope than other players on the roster. Wilson’s firing must have been a relief to the Maple Leaf prospect, but new coach, Randy Carlyle, has had his issues with young players as well.
Things may not be greener on the other side for Kadri.
With the addition of James van Riemsdyk, the Maple Leafs have eight forwards who are seemingly locked in for a top-nine role with the club. They are Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Nikolai Kulemin and Matt Frattin.
That list does not include newcomer Jay McClement or veterans Tim Connolly and Matthew Lombardi. Taking all of that into account there does not appear to be an opening available on the roster for Kadri.
There is a potential opening available given Matt Frattin’s health status. Frattin was injured in the AHL playoffs and underwent surgery. He is expected to miss the start of the season.
Frattin’s misfortune could give Kadri the opportunity he needs to stick with the big club. If that is the case, Kadri will likely have 10-15 games to prove he can stick.
With the recent trade of Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Travis Snider, the comparisons to Kadri can’t be ignored. Snider was a first round draft pick of the Blue Jays (14th overall) and showed promise early on in his professional career. However, like Kadri, Snider was unable to stick with the big league club, exchanging short stints with the Blue Jays with plenty of time in the minors.
The trading of Snider to the Pittsburgh Pirates for relief pitcher Brad Lincoln was a disappointing result for the Blue Jays given the promise Snider showed. One has to wonder if the way the organization handled Snider not only affected his play, but also drove down his trade value.
This should be something the Maple Leafs are weary of in their handling of Kadri as it appears his perceived value across the league is not as high as one would like to think.
Surely there are many things that can happen before the start of this season. Burke has stated on many occasions that he believes he can improve his club through the trade market and even one trade can change the landscape as to what the opening night roster will look like.
That being said, this season appears to be a make or break one for Kadri with the Maple Leafs and possibly for his NHL career.