Anybody who really knows me, understands the type of thing I look for in a special hockey player. Its no secret to those people that I like tough, gritty and high scoring players for my beloved Maple Leafs. Most of last five or six years Leafs management has been searching for this type of athlete who wold be able to step in as a bonafide #1 centre. My message, if I could give one, to Leafs brass and fans alike; please be patient.
Now I'm not going to preach in this article because quite frankly I think there is way too much of it out there. No, I'm ust going to start off with one number.
For those of you out there that can't seem to drag yourself away from the stat sheet, this one is for you as well. This number is the projected point total for C Nazem Kadri if this past season had been 82 games. Now I understand that a lot can happen in 82 games but don't discount the fact that he was moved around...a lot. So which player did he have the most success with? Easy. If you are any kind of Leaf fan then your answer will undoubtedly be Joffrey Lupul. The assistant captain was injured for a good chunk of the season and I believe with more playing time next to Kadri, the chemistry will only flourish between them even further.
What does this have to do with procuring a #1 centre?
Well, lets put it this way: If you haven't figured it out yet, refer to the past 6 years of Leafs teams and tell me how many 21-year-olds were playing with a 75-point season projection? Can't find any? Ya, that's because most of those players that MAY have had a shot at getting anywhere near 50 points as a centre was either traded or on another team.
I know there will be many doubters saying that you can't judge a player on one season. You would be accurate if that is what you think. The unfortunate thing is that as accurate as that statement may be, it works both ways. Players can play awful for their first five years in the league and then all of the sudden have a 60 point season. If you think that a 21-year-old Kadri won't get better for the rest of his career, I don't think you haven't paid attention to what has been going on during his career with the Leafs thus far.
How many times has he impressed management in the last three years, only to be sent down? Seems to me that every time he had a chance to show what he could do on the ice, he impressed. But ok I guess that could just be Leafs brass exercising a little patience. During his nine game stint with the Leafs a few years back he couldn't hold on to the puck to save his life. He was weak and clearly needed to grow into his body a little so he could be stronger on the puck. That was around the time that Dion Phaneuf allegedly made some remarks to him regarding his play and reiterated that if he doesn't change he won't ever make the NHL. That alone from the captain of the team that drafted me would be a true emotional nightmare for me. Nazem didn't let it bother him and went back junior openminded.
Then there was the whole Ron Wilson hate fest going on between the two of them. For some reason Wilson felt that the only way Kadri could become a better defensive centre was to play him with subpar players and on the wing at that. I'm sure that fans can agree the relationship between player and coach had been decimated by the time Brian Burke finally decided that Wilson was not helping the team.
There are other racial issues that I could get into about some things that people have said about him, but I feel like to write about it is to give substance to ignorance, and that is not my way.
So as fans worry about Clarkson's contract, Reimer's feelings and Phaneuf's future just remember one thing if you can:
He isn't perfect, but the Leafs drafted him. He's now a playoff performer. He has mental toughness.
...oh, and a
31 goal and 44 assist season pace is pretty good for a young Leaf centre.