It's fitting that with the Maple Leafs about to open their training camp this weekend as we've reached a point in our countdown where the three remaining players were all regular (and important) players on the Maple Leafs last season. All the summer activities, trying to find little flashes of brilliance amidst a number of players that ultimately won't make much of an impact, are over.
The pros are here and they mean business.
After Phil Kessel's two year stranglehold on our top position, last season's Top 3 was very much a toss-up. The rankings for our top three players under 25 (James VanRiemsdyk (1st), Jake Gardiner (2nd) and Nazem Kadri (3rd)), were quite close, with each receiving multiple 1st place votes and all being unanimous top 3 choices.
This year, I'm happy to tell you that the voting was even closer but we'll talk more about that later.
For the moment, let's look at one of the most talented players the Leafs have ever drafted and developed themselves, and examine why he stays stuck on 3rd place for the second year in a row.
|Birthyear:||1990-10-06||Birthplace:||London, ON, CAN|
|Height:||183 cm / 6'0"||Weight:||84 kg / 185 lbs|
|Drafted:||2009 round 1 #7 overall by Toronto Maple Leafs|
A lot of people seem to believe Nazem Kadri had a "down year" last season. I don't necessarily believe that to be true.
Kadri certainly didn't have the same success he had achieved in the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Though it would be obtuse to look at that and not identify some of the root causes; a high personal and on-ice shooting percentage in 2013, a general weakening of his linemates (would you rather play with Clarke MacArthur or David Clarkson on your wing?), a historically poor possession team limiting offensive opportunities, and the fact teams had to have a plan for Kadri. All of these have a hand in explaining why Kadri didn't repeat his breakout, point per game campaign from the previous year.
And yet, when you look at all that, you'd think he had the sort of drop off in offence that Nikolai Kulemin suffered following his 30-goal season. But Nazem Kadri had 50 points last year; 20 goals, 50 points, both career highs.
I guess it's interesting to see the parallels between what Kadri did two seasons ago and what Ryan Johansen of Columbus did last season. Kadri was downtrodden despite being the 4th offensive threat on a 3 player team, and Johansen's ascended because of 13 more points. And yet, compare the development path taken by Kadri (a high 1st round pick in 2009, and Johansen, 4th overall in 2010, and the differences seem almost negligible. Hockey's a funny game sometimes.
What's next for Kadri? Your guess is as good as mine. Kadri's a pretty sublimely skilled player, an absolutely lethal stickhandler with great offensive instincts and just enough edge to his game that you never have to worry about him being pushed around. He hasn't looked polished defensively, but then again, hardly anyone on Randy Carlyle's Maple Leafs have been.
Kadri's on the second and last year of a bridge contract and, about to turn 24 years old, is poised for a major breakthrough in his game. The problem is, as long as Tyler Bozak remains healthy, and Phil Kessel and James VanRiemsdyk keep scoring, I don't see Bozak being moved off the top line. That's not to say Kadri can't flourish in the sort of role Joe Pavelski did on the Sharks (and I can't BELIEVE I just indirectly compared Tyler Bozak to Joe Freaking Thornton), but I do think he might inevitably have some detractors because he's not a "1C".
|Name||birky||BowerPower||Burtch||Chemmy||clrkaitken||Nikota||PPP||SkinnyFish||67 Sound||FINAL RANK|
As I mentioned earlier, the race between the top three this year and last year were both incredibly close. Kadri finished 3rd and while he had his share of 1st and 2nd place votes, he was 3rd on the majority of the votes. He ultimately finished 3 points behind Jake Gardiner and 6 behind VanRiemsdyk.
This year, Kadri's 1st and 2nd votes were almost as plentiful as the others, and he seemed to move up a spot or two on as many ballots as the others. Kadri finished 3rd for the second consecutive year, but he finished 2 points behind 2nd place on our list. The gap narrowed.
A bonafide second-line centre with the creativity and skillset to create offence. BowerPower
Leafs best centremen by a mile and hopefully he gets a better scoring winger than David Clarkson this year. PPP
It's important to note that Kadri failing to improve on his ranking, and the fact he didn't immediately repeat his breakout season, as some sort of failure, or missed opportunity. But don't. This race turned out to be the equivalent of three 100m sprinters racing to the finish line, and basically throwing their bodies at the finish line in an effort to win. Unfortunately, the other two guys managed to get some appendage across the line before Kadri.
Twelve months from now, we could be right back here talking about how Kadri nosed past the other two guys.