March 19, 2011; Toronto, ON, CANADA; Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri (43) during a game against the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 5-2. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-US PRESSWIRE

Is Nazem Kadri NHL-Ready?

The fates of Brian Burke and Nazem Kadri are irrevocably linked.

Burke, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ president and general manager, arrived in Toronto with a lot of fanfare in late November 2008. He received a free pass from fans and media in those first four months at the Leafs’ helm, as the team’s futility earned them the seventh-overall selection in the 2009 draft. With that pick, Burke selected Kadri, a skilled but temperamental forward from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Much like Burke, followers of the Leafs praised the acquisition. Kadri seemed to fill a glaring long-term hole among the top-six forwards. He wouldn’t be able to step in immediately, but after a few years of seasoning in junior and with the Marlies, surely we had found a significant piece to the puzzle.

Three years later, we’re still not totally sure what we have in Nazem Kadri. Yeah, he’s skilled. Sure, he’s got some toughness in that 6-foot, 185-pound frame. But is he a top-six forward at the NHL level? Gonna have to go with a no on that one.

Leaf fans don’t want to hear that. We still remain optimistic on Kadri. We want to think he can step in right away, whenever this lockout ends, into the Leafs’ top-six of forwards and excel. But I ain’t seeing it.

I was in the building for the Marlies’ preseason game in Cobourg and was able to catch bits and pieces of the game against the Hamilton Bulldogs on TV last Saturday, and to put it simply; Kadri needs to show me more. For a player who likes to jaw and jab with opponents after the whistle, that aggressiveness doesn’t show up enough in his game in between whistles. He too often plays on the perimeter, looks to pass far more than he looks to shoot, and when he has had opportunities to score he hasn’t converted.

Rogers Sportsnet hockey analyst Scott Morrison was bang-on with his assessment of Kadri’s play when he appeared on Brady and Lang in the Morning on Sportsnet 590 The FAN in Toronto on Monday.

“Kadri had glimpses where you could see how skilled he was, and the puck-handling ability, and the ability to make quick plays and react, and then he just kind of drifts away. So I think it’s just finding that consistency, and for him to get to the next level, and to prove to people that he is an NHLer and can be good at the NHL level, he’s going to have to…dominate’s a strong word, but he’s gonna have to be really, really good on a consistent basis at this American League level and I just don’t see it so far.”

You could argue that everybody’s overanalyzing Kadri’s play because we have too much time on our hands with the lockout, but it’s fair to expect a seventh-overall pick from three years ago to be dominant at an AHL level by now. Here’s how Kadri compares to the rest of the top-14 selections in the 2009 draft, via hockeydb.com:

Pick

Player

NHL Games Played

NHL Points

1

John Tavares

243

202

2

Victor Hedman

214

69

3

Matt Duchene

219

150

4

Evander Kane

213

183

5

Brayden Schenn

63

20

6

Oliver Ekman-Larsson

130

43

7

Nazem Kadri

51

19

8

Scott Glennie

1

0

9

Jared Cowen

83

17

10

Magnus Pajaarvi

121

42

11

Ryan Ellis

32

11

12

Calvin de Haan

1

0

13

Zack Kassian

44

10

14

Dmitri Kulikov

198

70

At least we weren’t stuck with Scott Glennie, right? All kidding aside, Kadri doesn’t compare all that terribly to most of these guys. Fellow centreman Brayden Schenn, whom many around Leaf Nation had their sights on leading up to the ’09 draft, has a worse point-per-game rate than Kadri at an NHL level, despite being taken two picks earlier by the Los Angeles Kings. However, he’s had a better AHL campaign than Kadri so far this season with the Adirondack Phantoms, tallying five points in four games, while Kadri has only two in five.

But Jared Cowan, Magnus Pajaarvi and Dmitri Kulikov, all taken after Kadri, have developed into NHL regulars. The same can’t be said for the Leafs’ pick.

I’m not saying Kadri’s a bust and Burke totally swung-and-missed with that pick, I’m just saying we need to see more out of Nazem Kadri before we can give him a regular spot with the Leafs.

And ironically, if he doesn’t step into that role and produce when the season starts, it could cost the man who drafted him his job.

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