Toronto Maple Leafs rookies Nazem Kadri and James Reimer have had seemingly opposite seasons in 2010-2011, yet Leafs president and general manager Brian Burke remains confident in both players.
Reimer, who has had the better year of the two, is responsible for the Leafs’ second half success. In 31 games with the Leafs this season, Reimer has a record of 17-8-4, a goals against average of 2.53 and a save percentage of .923. His GAA and save percentage are both better than his AHL ones of 2.59 and .920, which he achieved in just 15 games.
Despite the Leafs’ goaltending situation for next season being very unclear, Burke is already saying that Reimer will be their starting goalie.
“I think what [Ron Wilson] was hoping [at the beginning of the season] is that we’d established that the Monster would get back in there or that [Giguere] would be healthy. So no, it hasn’t established [who the starting goalie will be], but I think it’s certainly established who the number one is,” Burke said on the Bill Watters show yesterday when asked about his team’s goaltending situation for next season.
Sure it’s great news that the Leafs aren’t completely unsure about who their goalies will be for next season will be, but there have been so many young goalies have done what Reimer has and went on to be not nearly as good as they showed they can be. With that in mind, should Burke have named Reimer his starting goalie for the 2011-2012 this early?
The Leafs GM certainly does understand the risk that comes along with his decision to name Reimer the team’s starting goalie seven months before puck drop.
“The issue is, is this guy a legitimate number one for the long haul?” Burke said. “We believe he is, and we think he’s got that temperament, personality and work ethic to be a number one without letting this little run go to his head.”
With Burke being so set on Reimer for next season, the focus shifts to the Leafs’ top-six forwards…again.
Nazem Kadri, who has two goals, one assist and a plus-1 rating since being called up for the second time this season, has been heavily criticized for not being able to make the jump from the OHL to the NHL. Burke was quick to jump to the 20-year-old’s defense on Monday.
“The pace of his game has improved. I don’t think people realize sometimes the difference between the OHL … and the American league or the NHL,” Burke said. “In the OHL, Nazem would often beat the same guy twice on a line rush. He’d stick handle a guy and circle back. That doesn’t happen in our league.”
Kadri played in 242 OHL regular season games for the Kitchener Rangers and London Knights. In those 242 games, he scored 92 goals and 166 assists. In 44 games for the Toronto Marlies this season, Kadri has 17 goals and 24 assists. For whatever reason, he has not been able to translate his junior and AHL success into NHL success, with just two goals and seven assists in 24 career NHL games.
Nevertheless, Burke is still extremely pleased with Kadri’s game and thinks he has a bright future in the NHL.
“This is a guy who makes intelligent plays on the half boards, he’ll be able to run a power play in our league down the road and he’s gotten stronger,” Burke said. “[I like] just about everything [about Nazem].”
That’s good news for the Leafs and their fans, as the only legitimate top-six forward Toronto had going into the season was Phil Kessel. Fortunately, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur have shown that they can log top-six minutes while putting up good numbers.
Add Nazem Kadri into that group of forwards and the potential for the Leafs to be a high scoring team a year or two from now is there. Include Keith Aulie and Luke Schenn on the back-end and James Reimer in net, and the Leafs’ chances at the playoffs for next season appear to be significantly higher.