The motto of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has been "Slow and Steady". Outside of 1st overall pick John Tavares, nobody has really stepped directly into the NHL and become exactly what people expected them to be. Even second and third overall picks Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene have been constantly evolving as they try and fulfill their potential. And a number of other players from that first round (Brayden Schenn, Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian and Chris Krieder among others) have also slowly developed and either started to make their mark in the NHL this past season, or will be expected to next season.
One other player that will fit into that second group is Toronto's selection from that draft, Nazem Kadri. Selected 7th overall, Kadri is a wizard with the puck (earning the "Nifty Mittens" label from Pierre McGuire after undressing Tim Thomas in a shootout), and terrific offensive sense, but also plays with a nasty edge that you wouldn't necessarily expect from a player with his skillset.
Over the three seasons since his draft, Kadri has been one of the last cuts from the Maple Leafs training camp each year, each time sent back to the London Knights or the Toronto Marlies with instructions on what he needs to improve in his game (generally improving his strength, his defensive play, cutting down on high-risk plays, things of those nature to make his game more well-rounded). For the most part, he has excelled at the levels below the NHL and done what has asked of him, and has had mild success in brief stays at the NHL.
Turning 22 years old this fall, now is the time for Kadri to put all facets of his game together and take hold of a full-time job in the NHL (likely a sheltered offensive role on the Leafs second or third line). Adding Kadri to the Leafs roster next season would be a much needed infusion of skill into the Leafs lineup, which would help take the pressure off of veterans like Joffrey Lupul to not have to pull another point-a-game season out of thin air.
Kadri is our pick at #4 on our list, moving up 2 spots from the winter.
Most projections of a Leaf lineup have Kadri slotted somewhere in on the third line (which fans anticipate will be used as a sheltered scoring line against weaker competition), but they aren't sure where. It seems as if the Maple Leafs brass aren't exactly sure where they project Kadri, since in two seasons in the AHL and NHL they have shifted him from the centre position he played in junior to left wing and back again.
This flexibility gives the Leafs options on how to make the best lineup that includes Kadri. The ability to play him at two positions means they don't have to think purely in terms of Kadri supplanting one specific player to get into the lineup, but that the lineup can be shaped in a number of different ways to accomodate Kadri.
Strangely enough two salary cap considerations regarding Kadri are simultaneously reasons why he simply must be on this team but also why he might start another year in the AHL; his contract status and his waiver status. Still on an affordable entry-level deal, Kadri can be brought into the lineup quite easily without giving the Leafs major salary headaches, and after spending two of his three ELC years primarily in the AHL, his RFA contract should be a relative bargain. Coming up on his peak years, Kadri should be able to give the Leafs 5 or 6 years of production that far outpaces his cap hit.
However, the fact that he remains waiver exempt could mean Kadri starts with the Marlies again as Brian Burke tries to manage the forwards already on the Leafs roster. This would be a dramatic disappointment, particularly since there's not a single good reason that the forward group that was largely intact during the second-half collapse last season should be brought back.
As we documented over the past week, there was a lot of confusion among the panel regarding the order of the payers we ranked 5 through 8. As a result, Kadri gained just 3 points over the last ranking but jumping 2 spots, leapfrogging two players who may have been ranked a touch high in the winter (Reimer and Colborne).
|Prior Rank||JP Nikota||PPP||Chemmy||SkinnyFish||birky||Plea From A Cat Named Felix||clrkaitken||Rank|
You won't believe this, but birky's ranking of Kadri is different from the rest. While the spread of votes at the very top is quite low, birky actually dropped his vote, as he ranked Kadri 5th back in the winter.
As for myself, Kadri bumps up from 5 to 4, as I correct my mistake from the winter list and move Kadri back ahead of Colborne.
For me, Kadri hasn't really done much to improve or worsen his ranking; he still remains the player I believe he can be, but that player just isn't yet at the level of our three remaining players. He possesses all the tools to be a bonafide top six forward and from my perspective has done everything asked of him. There's no longer any good reason to keep him out of this team's top nine; if I have to trade Matt Frattin or Tyler Bozak or Tim Connolly or NIkolai Kulemin to make room for him I'm doing it.