The Countdown of the Toronto Maple Leafs All-Time Greatest Draft Picks continues.
We started off the countdown with #10 Nik Antropov. We appreciated his contributions, but lamented that most teams probably have better players in the ten position. The Toronto Maple Leafs have just never been good, or had good luck, at the NHL draft.
Our second guy on the countdown was Al Iafrate. Having only seen the broken down Iafrate in the mid-to late nineties, I was surprised to find Iafrate was actually a near-superstar before injuries and personal problems derailed his career.
Coming in at #8 was my favorite player as a kid, Gary Leeman. Leeman is an unappreciated Leafs Legend and it’s not his fault that he played during the worst time possible to be a Leaf.
#7 Nazem Kadri
Picked seventh overall in 2009, Nazem Kadri is also the seventh best draft pick in the history or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Kadri began his career under the terrible coaching of Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle, two of the worst to ever go behind the Leafs bench. After rocking nearly a point-per-game in his rookie year (after the 2012 lockout), Kadri struggled to develop in the bizarro world that was the pre-Shanahan era.
Though he finally broke out in Carlyle’s final season, only people willing to look beyond the totals (goals and assists) and peer at the real numbers knew it.
Kadri followed that season up by exploding in the first season under Mike Babcock…..to the tune of 45 points in 76 games. Again, it required looking beyond the points to see his true value. Though he was criticized during this campaign, Kadri was putting shots on net at a Patrick Kane level and was easily the best Leafs forward that year.
The problem for Kadri was that although people were treating him like a 15 goal scorer, he played to the level of a 30 goal scorer, but was just victimized by bad luck. In 2015-16, Kadri shot only 4.5% at even-strength, which was lower by half compared to his career total. And it wasn’t just his individual shooting percentage that sandbagged him: Kadri’s on ice shooting percentage (the team’s shooting percentage when he was on the ice) was incredibly also 5%.
Now, people tried to pin this on shot selection, but that just wasn’t the case. Either Kadri was one of the worst shooters in NHL history, or he had a very unlucky season – when it boils down to it, those are the only options the stats left us.
These kinds of year-long unlucky streaks are not all that uncommon in the NHL and usually there is one player per year who plays like a star but gets snake bitten by hot goalies and bad luck. Even though the Leafs were a last place team, Kadri played at a near elite level by driving play, winning the shots battle and putting up a nearly 53% possession rating.
It Pays Off
After Babcock’s first year with the Leafs, many people still wanted the Leafs to bail on Kadri. I got heckled in the comments section every time I wrote about how good he was.
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Kadri paid off the faith when his shooting percentage (as literally anyone could have predicted) returned to his career norms and he scored a career high 32 goals. An impressive 17 of which came 5v5, good for 32nd overall in the NHL.
Not only did he put up 61 points last year – a good total for almost anyone in the NHL – he did it while drawing difficult defensive assignments on a checking line with Leo Komarov. He did receive Selke consideration, but he definitely warranted at least a 3rd place vote or two.
Nazem Kadri is currently 64th on the Leafs all-time games played list, and is ranked 45th in both goals and points.
Kadri has come from being a player fans failed to embrace to one of the all-time best players the Toronto Maple Leafs have ever drafted and developed. He remains a core piece on today’s Leafs and is one of the best two-way centres in the NHL.
stats and info from quanthockey.com , stats.hockey.analysis.com and hockeydb.com