The eyes of a sniper - Abelimages
Toronto Maple Leafs prospects Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin have hit the Leafs roster in a big way so far this NHL season.
So I feel sort of vindicated with my views on Kadri and Frattin in the early going of this Leaf season. We're seven games in and so far both players have played a key role in virtually every game they've played for the Leafs so far. They've gone from being the key pieces for the AHL Marlies to very solid secondary scoring options with the NHL Leafs.
They aren't getting the most PP time on the team, they aren't playing against the toughest opposition, they aren't playing huge PK minutes, but what they are doing is making excellent usage of the ice time they ARE being given. The minutes are of the sheltered variety but that's ok. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin are facing the toughs alongside Jay McClement. Joffrey Lupul and Clarke MacArthur are out with injuries and Phil Kessel can't seem to buy a lucky break when it comes to shots going into the net.
Here's what people need to remember about Frattin and Kadri - we've been waiting on this production for a few years. This is exactly why Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly were allowed to stick around for a year, to give those kids one more year to develop before carrying their fair share of the load this season. So yes it is early going - it's only seven games into the season - but the Leafs find themselves sitting at 4-3-0 largely on the backs of play from the two Leafs young scorers.
Frattin's net drive and ability to stick with the puck are stellar so far in the early going. He generates shots when he's on the ice at a prodigious rate often for himself. Kadri is also often in the midst of the action, drawing penalties here, firing pucks off the post there. Their minutes are being limited, with Frattin averaging 12:28 in ES TOI nightly and Kadri averaging 11:18. Both are also seeing some limited PP minutes, with Frattin only playing :27 seconds nightly and Kadri seeing 3:08 on a per game basis.
So what's worked out so far for the duo? Well luck - for one thing. Frattin's PDO sits at the lofty heights of 1071, largely due to an On Ice SH% of 23.81%, while Kadri's number is below 1000 at 974 despite an On Ice SH% of 14.63%. And frankly, the duo isn't dominant at 5 on 5. The bounces are going their way over the past few games and I sincerely doubt Frattin's 57% shooting lasts - I'd be selling if you somehow decided to add him in your fantasy pool. Kadri and Frattin together have posted a Corsi % at 5v5 adjusted for Zone Start of 44.1%, so they're still being outworked in terms of shot production.
They're still developing defensively, and they'll garner tougher assignments if they continue to produce offensively, so eventually all of this is likely to even out, but let's enjoy the ride while it lasts. Similarly, it's sort of fun to compare their quick start to those of some of their peers developmentally - so here's a listing of comparable players within their first 4 NHL seasons since 2007 who have less than 75 games played along with their point production over that early stretch of their careers:
You'll likely notice that Frattin and Kadri are now looking like they're coming out ahead of the likes of Kassian, Boychuk, Johansen, Schenn, Josefson, and Bowman. Kadri in particular is starting to climb in the direction of Carl Hagelin and Adam Henrique - looking more like the top offensive prospect he was hoped to be. Again - I'd caution against any serious hopes of Kadri developing into a 70+ point producer and at this stage would recommend that we be happy if he develops into the 60+ point range ever in his career. Frattin's goal scoring looks to be decent and he's a bit older than Kadri so hopefully he can continue to improve though his peak is likely coming sooner rather than later.
One of the biggest things for Leaf fans to hope on is the fact that they also seem to play well together, so this bodes well for the Leafs from an offensive depth perspective when Lupul and MacArthur return healthy. This all means the Leafs actually have a wide variety of scoring options up front, and production by committee should reduce that scoring load on Kessel and Lupul long term. Having scoring depth also makes the Leafs more difficult to face from a match up perspective - if teams focus on the top shooters, that should provide the opportunity for the Leafs other scorers to exploit weaker lines.
Generally speaking the issues around ice time management so far this season are focused on Carlyle's usage of his D men, and the OZ% some of his best talent is seeing. Oh and there's also his usage of cinder blocks in place of hockey players on his 4th line. All of that being said, he's doing a solid job of integrating his kids into the line up and putting them in a position to be successful and for that he should be lauded. This hot stretch isn't likely to last much longer for Kadri and Frattin - but hopefully as they tail off Kessel can pick his scoring back up and the Leafs offense can keep rolling.
Let's keep our fingers crossed.
Joffrey Lupul's Fractured Forearm Is A Good Thing
The Leafs can turn lemons into lemonade if they make proper use of this special opportunity.
Nazem Kadri's "Struggles", Brayden Schenn "Excels"
If Nazem Kadri is struggling to make the NHL - more NHL prospects should WISH they could struggle like he has.