Nazem Kadri is the final top-six forward profiled in our Player Outlook series. The 23-year-old is entering his third season as a full-time Leaf, and appears poised to continue his growth in 2014-15 on Toronto’s second line.
Kadri followed up his 2012-13 breakout season with 50 points over 78 games in 2013-14, centering the Leafs’ second line for most of the campaign. Kadri struggled to produce consistently in his second full season with the Leafs, which saw him start the year strong with 15 points in his first 20 games before tapering off with 10 points in the 24 contests that followed. His biggest highs and lows came after the New Year, once going on a tear with 15 points in 10 games but also finishing with 9 points in his final 24 games.
At least some of Kadri’s struggles can be pinned on Toronto’s poor forward depth in 2013-14, particularly at centre. Scarce offensive production from the bottom six and long-term injuries to Tyler Bozak and Dave Bolland meant there was often a lot of slack for Kadri to pick up, a situation he hadn’t dealt with in 2012-13 when Mikhail Grabovski‘s use as a checking centre ensured Kadri lower minutes and offensive opportunities for much of the season. This offseason the Leafs bolstered their centre depth with the acquisitions of Mike Santorelli, Petri Kontiola and Leo Komarov. Kadri will start training camp as the Leafs’ number-two centre, a job I think he will remain in for the lion’s share of the season. Bozak’s 49-point, 58-game performance in 2013-14 has cemented him as the number-one for the time being, and though I look forward to their bottom-six contributions it’s unlikely Kontiola, Santorelli or Komarov will move above him on the depth chart.
Can Kadri continue to develop and bring consistency to his game in 2014-15?
I think a reasonable amount of growth can be expected from Kadri in the upcoming season. At 23, I feel there is still plenty of growing for Kadri to do. His hot-and-cold play last year was concerning, but sophomore slumps aren’t uncommon as young players move into bigger roles than they had in their breakout seasons. Moreover, the Leafs’ improved bottom-six depth should help make Kadri’s job on the second line less demanding.
Who will end up on Kadri’s right wing?
Joffrey Lupul will almost surely rejoin Kadri on the second line as left wing, though the line’s right side is wide open for challengers. Santorelli, David Clarkson, Matt Frattin, Kontiola, Komarov and Carter Ashton can all play on the right side. Some of those listed are long shots, but without a clear-cut favourite the spot could see a rotation of players until chemistry is found.