It took 3 long seasons, a new General Manager and a new head coach but the Toronto Maple Leafs 7th overall pick in 2009 Nazem Kadri, has finally cracked the Leafs opening Night roster. Not only has he earned himself a spot in the top 9 forwards but 3 games in he saw himself on the first line with Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak late in the Pittsburgh game. Since showing up at "training camp" Kadri has been on fire while wearing blue and white- from a hat-trick in the scrimmage to the first Leafs goal of 2013, the kid has turned heads.
It hasn't been an easy road for Nazem Kadri to crack the opening night roster. He took lots of criticism from former coach Ron Wilson on being to small, not being tough enough and playing poor defence. Former Leafs GM Brian Burke also had harsh words for the prospect during his tenure, claiming that Kadri was "running out of time". He's been called out for being lazy and coming to camp out of shape, some fans loved him and others wanted him shipped out-of-town for bag of pucks. Either way there has always been controversy surrounding Nazem Kadri. But to his credit he's gone down to the minors and battled hard after each setback, it appears now that all the struggle has been worth it.
Since being benched by Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins for putting up only 3 points in 9 games, everything Kadri touches turns into goals. He put up 23 points in just 18 games with the Marlies and earned himself an invite to Leafs training camp. After his success at training camp he earned himself a spot centering the 3rd line between James van Riemsdyke and Leo Komarov and the 3 of them did not disappoint in the season opener arguably the Leafs best line in the game.
One could easily make the case that Kadri has been the Leafs best player through 4 games, recording at least a point in all 4 and leading the team in points with 5. His speed and skill have been on full display and he's been the best Leaf on the ice each night. But everyone expects Kadri to be an offencive juggernaut so there are no real surprises he's making the most of his opportunites on the power play and centering the 3rd line, the real surprise is his commitment to the physical aspect. Early in his career you wouldn't catch him the corners or laying hits and anytime a player touched him he'd go whine on the bench. In the first 4 games he's been in the corners and dirty areas of the ice, laying hits and taking big hits just fine. He's turned into the all around player the Leafs wanted him to be.
It's still early on in the season but so far Kadri has looked good- in fact he's looked fantastic. He's been one of the bright spots for the Leafs and it looks like he's finally found his game and the game required to be successful at the NHL level. His "Hockey IQ" has improved drastically making him less predictable and more of team player and he's now a more lethal weapon on the ice then ever before! Everything points to this being a breakout year for Nazem Kadri, his chance to prove he's a NHL player and not a bust. Maybe Kadri's spark may give the Leafs the jump to make the playoffs for the first since 2004.