Nazem Kadri has grown a lot over his seven seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I mean, that’s only to be expected; naturally, you would think 26-year-old would be more skilled at his craft than a 19-year-old just starting out. But it doesn’t quite always work out that way; fortunately for Kadri, it has.
To the point he wants to be in the Selke conversation.
He’s probably not there quite yet, but even having those aspirations says a lot about him - and his play this season in particular is really starting to back up those ambitions.
Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts this week gives us a lot of insight into Kadri and how Mike Babcock sees him, particularly thoughts #21...
Most interesting thing about last weekend’s conversation with Nazem Kadri? That Mike Babcock gives him latitude in selecting his particular matchup. “Often times he thinks (that it’s) not necessarily the top line that’s producing or playing the best on a certain team,” Kadri said, “So he’ll give you the option between two centres or two lines and you... pick between the two.”
... and #22...
So, if Mike Babcock walks up to Kadri before a Pittsburgh game and says, "Crosby or Malkin, who do you want?" "I’m taking Sid every time. Just because he’s such a great player, such a great challenge for me. It really is such a hard assignment.... (You) try to get under his skin the most. It’s very hard to do because he’s very composed and very patient. I always appreciate that challenge."
Some of this, Kadri attributes to his growth in the game. Whatever thoughts anyone may have on previous Leafs coaches compared to Babcock, Babcock has gotten an already experienced player to work with; Kadri noted how his youth in previous seasons wouldn’t have allowed him to have as much responsibility as he does now. (And it’s awesome to see Kadri isn’t interested in backing down and wants to take on the toughest competition possible, for that matter.)
And thing is, he’s really been backing it up, especially this season. He’s put up the best Corsi numbers of his career under Babcock, but this season is seeing him take on the worst zone starts he’s ever faced, at 24.27% offensive zone starts, according to Corsica.
His name is a little squished in there alongside Leo Komarov’s, but they’re the bright blue circles to the far left. You’ll notice they’re the only ones around there, too. That indicates they’re being tasked with the Leafs’ toughest assignments — they aren’t getting that many offensive zone starts, and they’re still driving play north and towards the opposition’s net, regardless — all while facing the opposition’s top players.
If he can keep this up, he should definitely be a part of the Selke conversation in years to come.