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Leafs Next One?

April 6, 2010

There are few things that Leaf fans can look forward to at this time of year other than their team’s young prospects. In fact, you could call the entire current team, with a few exceptions, a group of prospects. Rookies and sophomores hoping to show they can make the grade, learning what it takes to win in the ‘Show.’ In addition to these young men, there are the next crop of prospects – junior stars and first year pros.  And at the top of this list? The 2009 first round draft pick, 7th overall, Nazem Kadri of the London Knights.

As a fan of both the Knights and the Leafs, I approach this topic with both the enthusiasm of the Knights fan who sees Naz dazzle junior goalies on almost a nightly (no pun intended) basis and the Leafs fan who desperately hopes that this most recent 1st round draft pick is not a dud. Because he’s the last first rounder the Leafs will have for the next couple years, barring some miraculous trades by Brian Burke. Not that such a trade or trades could not occur, but I’m just going to deal with the present circumstances for now.

I have to admit that although Kadri plays for my hometown Knights, I didn’t want Burke to draft him last year.  I’d seen Naz play a heckuva lot and while there was definitely evidence of great skill, there was also a lack of maturity and a great deal of what appeared to be a ‘me-first’ attitude.  The next great hope of Leafs Nation? Frankly, I didn’t think he had the cojones.

Can he dangle with the best young juniors out there? You bet he can. Can he rise to the occasion when his team needs him, on a team that doesn’t have many bona fide stars?  He’s done that too. But too often, when the best the other team can put out on the ice gets under his skin, when the rival pest pokes and prods just one too many times,  Naz blows a gasket and takes a bad penalty.

You saw it in the World Junior Championships when he laid a questionable hit on an unsuspecting Latvian. It’s been there all season long with the Knights. It was only a matter of time before his lack of control would be costly for his team.  And you saw that when he took a needless head-checking penalty and added a misconduct for mouthing off with less than two minutes left in a tie game. A tied playoff game. Guelph scored and won their only game of the series.

The fact is that was the pivotal third game of the series that could have tilted the momentum away from the Knights. And the miscue was performed by the Knights’ best and most experienced player. If he can’t show his leadership with his junior team, does he have the character to handle being under the spotlight with the Toronto Maple Leafs? The most scrutinized team in the league?

Well, I don’t have a crystal ball, that’s why he’s considered a prospect. What I can give you Leafs and Knights fans is that in the games since that particular gaffe, young Mr. Kadri has reined himself in or in hockey talk ‘sucked it up.’ He has brought all the skill and finesse a fan could desire (see the penalty shot goal from game 3 of the Knights/Rangers game last night), continued to perform like the scoring star the Leafs initially drafted and that he proved to be in both international and league play and topped it off with some gritty physical play and backchecking to boot.  All of which bodes well for starting the next phase of his career.

Go Knights Go!

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