Nazem Kadri is our best prospect. He's a feisty playmaker capable of slick moves with the puck and willing to get under the opposition's skin. He plays on the edge and his junior career suggests he can score (with 93 points in 56 games his NHL equivalency over 82 is a 60pt season).
The problem is that Kadri isn't a mature player yet: he's a kid. Take a look at photos of him from training camp (click on the image at the top of this post for more Kadri photos). They say he bulked up but he looks as skinny as a rail. He was quoted this morning saying competition in the NHL are men who have "facial hair". That's a telling quote.
Let's look at some sobering stats. Here's a link to a search on Hockey-Reference.com with the following criteria: a forward 20 years old or younger with 60 games played in a single season.
57 entries are on that list. Sidney Crosby is on there twice. So are Patrick Kane, Anze Kopitar and Phil Kessel among others. Sam Gagner is on the list three times.
But clearly being on that list doesn't mean you're destined for greatness. Sam Gagner has never scored 50 points in a season. Viktor Tikhonov and Josh Bailey aren't feared top line goal scorers. Likewise there are plenty of good young players not mentioned on that list at all. Bobby Ryan played 23 games as a 20 year old scoring only 10 points before coming back as a 21 year old and scoring 31 goals in 64 games.
This is a maturation process. Though the sample size is small we're not hearing great things about Kadri's training camp. We didn't see great things from him at the rookie camp. He's adjusting to the pro game. We talk about sheltering kids; we talk about not rushing their development.
Kadri doesn't need to play his first NHL games under the crushing weight of being the future face of a franchise but he will anyways. If he doesn't make this team out of camp we're going to hear him begin to get compared to Jiri Tlusty and every other prospect that never panned out because as a city and as a media echo chamber we shattered their confidence.
Let's all take a deep breath on Kadri. He's a great prospect but that doesn't mean he's a great NHL player. He might be some day but rushing his development to join this year's Leafs isn't going to help us in the short term or the long term. Let him develop. Let him become the player we need him to be in three or four years when this club can realistically open the season and say "We're going to make the playoffs".
This year? Let's make a trip to the Ricoh and see him in December.