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Toronto Maple Leafs select Nazem Kadri 7th Overall in 2009 NHL Draft

Minutes after the Toronto Maple Leafs had selected Nazem Kadri from the London Knights with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 NHL Draft I had a chance to stand in on his first media scrum as a Maple Leaf. This entire day has been a series of new experiences and the media scrum around a Leafs player was the latest. Kadri comes form a huge Lebanese-Canadian family that he pegged at about 40 immediate members and it sure seemed like most of them were in attendance wearing Knights jerseys. His mother Sue was born in Canada and his father moved to Canada when he was 3 years old.

His father grew up a huge Habs fan which is where the fandom originates. He loves hockey so much that he got Nazem, his only son, skating by two years old, playing hockey by four, and on a competitive team by six. Kadri noted that he owes his success to his father's unstinting support. His father's fandom is in the past as Kadri's first response was to proclaim the Maple Leafs his new favourite team. Typical turncoat Canadiens fan. The confidence just drips off of Kadri but it comes across as self-belief rather than self-confidence. When asked if he thought that he would be ready for the NHL next year he replied:

"I think I'm capable of doing that. I think it's going to be a big summer ahead of me, and you know, as long as I put the pedal to the metal, next season I should be ready to go."

It will be interesting to see what kind of training regimen the Leafs provide him with prior to attending the rookies camp this summer. So what are the Maple Leafs getting in Kadri? In his own words he's an offensive player that can provide grit and defensive awareness. He's not afraid of going to the places where goals are scored. In short, he's a Brian Burke-type player. He's a free spirit that is outspoken but keeps it within reason. He certainly came across as level-headed during the scrum.

His excitement at joining Toronto was palpable as his time in London has shown him just how big of a following that they have and he was pleased with the reception that he got from the Habs' faithful:

"I guess it's a warm welcome in Montreal for a Leafs player. No, you've got to accept the fact, obviously you can't do much about it, but I usually thrive off the booing, so no worries."

The Leafs actually showed quite a bit of interest in Kadri before the draft as they interviewed him a couple of times prior to the draft and were in frequent contact with his agent. Kadri noted that he played junior under a couple of strong organizations in the Kitchener Rangers, where he was coached by Peter DeBoer of the Panthers, and the London Knights where he was tutored by the Hunter brothers:

"Yeah, he's obviously a great coach, too. I've been fortunate to go through some amazing coaches in my junior career, but Pete was a little different style than Dale but I think I adapted well under both. They are great coaches, spoke really highly of me, unbelievable. They have obviously taught some great young hockey talent and developed some great players. They have both played in the pros, so they really taught me what to do and how to get there and how to kind of carry myself as a pro hockey player."

You can actually hear a ridiculous 1967 question that did not come from Howard Berger or Damien Cox. Kadri gave a good answer considering the inanity of the inquiry:

"Hopefully when I get some experience under my belt, I'll become one of those impact players. I think I can be. I'll just bring everything to the table, everything that I possibly can and hopefully I can be fortunate to win a Stanley Cup with the Leafs."

Obviously the media scrum was a surprise compared to anything that he had seen before. London might be a high-profile junior team but it's not Toronto. When I got to ask him a question (at the end of the interview) he seemed awed by the display but was glad to see the enthusiasm. He certainly seemed to be enjoying the attention and was quite affable and made the comparison to London's spotlight:

"I understand that and London was probably a good lesson for me. I think London is a smaller scale of the media and publicity that you get in Toronto. It helped me out for sure and obviously I know you're going to be under the microscope a little more, but I guess you're just going to have to watch your step."

At the end of the session Nazem spoke about growing up as a Muslim in Canada noting that there aren't many Lebanese or Muslim players in the NHL. He's hoping to be a positive role model for the community and hopefully will encourage more to pick up hockey. I also asked him about the effect that the religious calendar has on his hockey especially in November, when it matters, because of Ramadan. He noted that it's something that's frequently asked of him (it's tough to be original!) but that it is a tough situation however his parents support him 100% as they understand the circumstances involved. With that answer and a hearty congratulations and handshake I was the last to leave Kadri and my initial media scrums. I think we both did a great job.

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