I remember the NHL’s 2009 Entry Draft like it was yesterday. Brian Burke, the brash and unapologetic hockey mind, was the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs were fresh off of a season that saw them finish 12th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-35-13.
They again missed the playoffs, but this time around, there was a glimmer of hope that came in the form of a seventh overall draft pick. There was a lot of talent taken back in 2009, with notable names such as John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene rounding out the top three.
Right before Burke headed to the podium, there was a quick exchange with former Ottawa Senators general manager, Bryan Murray. It basically ended in a hurry as Burke said he was going to take Kadri at No. 7. Murray and the Senators ended up picking Jared Cowen two picks later.
Many Leafs fans were extremely excited by the Kadri pick. He was a scoring forward coming off a great season with the London Knights. He was a star in the making, who also had a mean streak and was able to get under the skin of his opponents.
Kadri’s Development Key to Leafs Success
Now in the second official year of the rebuild, Mike Babcock, the Leafs’ head coach, wanted a lot out of his young centre. He wanted him to be a leader, both on and off the ice. The former Red Wings’ bench boss demanded that he work hard and set a good example for the team’s numerous rookies.
Kadri has responded by becoming a legitimate two-way threat. He’s always been an offensive-minded type of player, but he can now officially add the title of shutdown presence to his resume.
Let’s look at a couple games from this season for reference. When the Edmonton Oilers came to town, it was billed as the heavyweight showdown between first overall picks. Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews both had some good moments in that game, but it was Kadri who stole the show.
He was able to shut McDavid down while also chipping in two goals, the latter of which was the overtime winner. That goal came after Kadri beat McDavid in the faceoff circle, sped by him in the neutral zone, and fought off the check en route to scoring the goal.
Another game saw Kadri really get under the skin of the Vancouver Canucks. Daniel Sedin was the target and Kadri found his mark, crushing the Swede with a borderline hit. That sparked outrage and fights, with Yannick Hansen jumping in to exact revenge for his fallen teammate.
Kadri Burns Teams on the Scoresheet Too
Many would be quick to dismiss Kadri as just a simple agitator on the ice. The former London Knight is so much more, however, and has become a leader on a young Leafs team.
It’s one thing to have Kadri bugging opponents by hitting them and chirping them. It’s another when he’s out on the ice scoring goals and setting up his teammates. Kadri finished last year with 17 goals and 45 points in 76 games.
Nazem Kadri scored twice, including his 100th NHL goal, to match a career-high with 20 goals this season (45 GP; also 2013-14: 20 in 78 GP). pic.twitter.com/4IReCgJN5h
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) January 24, 2017
This year, he’s on pace to shatter those numbers and already has 20 goals and 33 points. He was able to snipe a pair against the Calgary Flames, one of which was his 100th career goal. He’s a constant threat on the ice and especially on the power play where his vision and passing make him an incredibly dangerous weapon.
Kadri has come a long way in his seven years in the NHL. He’s also locked up for the next six years on a fantastic contract that will total at $27 million and carry a $4.5 million cap hit. The deal also carries a limited-movement clause. Kadri is here to stay and if he keeps on improving, he may one day be in the conversation for a Selke as the league’s best two-way forward.
If the Maple Leafs want to continue to have a successful year, the emergence and play of Kadri is an essential factor that they can’t afford to lose.