Mike Babcock expects Nazem Kadri to be an ‘elite player’

The ball is in Nazem Kadri’s court now.

After a disappointing season, the embattled Maple Leafs forward is getting a fresh start after signing a one-year contract with the club over the weekend. 

No pressure right, Nazem? Not so fast.

During the Maple Leafs’ hockey school for minor players on Monday, head coach Mike Babcock told media he expects Kadri to be an “elite player” next season.

From the Toronto Sun:

“I expect him to be an elite player,” Babcock said. “His training has to match his skill set. 
“That (goes) for all our guys. You can’t take the summer off. I expect our best players to be our hardest-working people and set the tone. Flat-out, I’ve told them that, they understand that. This is a big two-and-a-half months for all of them.
“It (Kadri’s million-dollar raise up to $4.1 million) is a home run for him. He gets to come in, have a heck of a year and put the screws to us (in his long-sought extended deal). Why wouldn’t he? If I’m him, I’m going to come in and have the best year of my career, training the way I should, living the way I should.”

Kadri hasn’t quite lived up to  expectations since the Leafs drafted him seventh overall in the 2009 NHL Draft. He’s showed flashes of brilliance — especially during the lockout-shortened season when he scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games played. But Kadri’s game away from the puck and his off-ice attitude have always been question marks for the Leafs — until now.

Kadri couldn’t get it right playing under Ron Wilson or Randy Carlyle as both coaches instilled a tough-love approach in an effort to transform the 24-year-old into a two-way player. The Leafs even suspended Kadri three games last season for breaking team rules — something he said he was “embarrassed about” and promised to learn from.

Kadri will most likely enter the season as the No. 2 centre and judging by his performance in training camp, he could compete for the No. 1 job with Tyler Bozak (assuming he’s still with the team come September).

According to Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry, this is Kadri’s last shot at proving his critics wrong. Cherry went on another Twitter rant on Monday, claiming if Kadri doesn’t have a good season under Babcock, “he’s toast.”

  • Corno4

    Good article Angelo, but I don’t necessarily think Kadri hasn’t “lived up to expectations”. It really depends on how you expected him to perform, but all in all he’s actually a deceivingly good player. Steve Burtch tweeted this out yesterday and it sums up his offensive production well: https://twitter.com/SteveBurtch/status/618259320485085184. He also tends to be one of the best puck possession players on the Leafs and maintains low shot attempts against relative to his teammates.

    You could argue Kadri is better than ROR who just received 7.5 Mil for his services. He’s far and away the best C on the Leafs right now and getting him for 4.1 is a great deal for us. Hopefully they can lock him up long term for around 4 or 5 million come this summer.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Kadri can only get better, in my mind. His passion and intensity that he put forth on every shift this past season went almost unmatched among the forward group (except for Uncle Leo and #InittoWinnik) and I think he will dynamite for us this year. Plus, he draws like a million penalties for every two that he takes.

  • silentbob

    Why does anyone care what Cherry has to say about anything?

    I think this is the 3rd “show me” year for Kadri. He played great in the shortened season, and in the years since he has played well but he hasn’t played or produced as well as he did during those 48 games.

    I think the good thing is we are no longer in a position where we need Kadri to “show us”. The last couple years we were just hoping/waiting for Kadri to play like he did during the 48 game season an be that legit #1 center. If he does that this year, great (though if he does should they pay him like one…..? might be tricky), but if not, that’s ok. With guys like Marner, Nylander, & Kapanen in the system, plus a couple more high picks coming, if Kadri does settle into a 2nd or even 3rd line center role…..we’re good.

    • Gary Empey

      Honestly I think he did so well in the shortened year because he was on the third line, so his QOC was lower and that allowed him to have an excellent year… even if he played with Colton Orr way too much

  • Kanuunankuula

    I don’t get how he has to “prove” anything. Look at Burch’s timeline. He was #15 on centers from 2012-2015 (2000+ mins, pts/60). His closest comparables are Thorton and Datsyuk. How is that bad? He has really done really well for us, but we keep on putting him down. I think it’s honestly just racism. If he was white, I’d doubt there would be all this hubbub around him.

    • Gary Empey

      The other factor not talked about is how Kadri (and Kessel before him) had the reputation of not being in peak condition for the start of training camp. This hasn’t taken away from production but it sets a poor example the rest of the team.

      Babcock has come from a team with Datsyuk, Zetterburg and Kronwall who set an example for training, on ice performance and being good leaders. This is what Babcock wants Kadri to grow into.

      Now guys like Kessel and Kadri probably don’t need to practice (and nor do Datsyuk and Zetterburg) but these guys even though elite want to be even better.

    • Gary Empey

      No, because Kadri is a better player than Bozak.

      Bozak’s production while playing with Kessel and JVR is SIMILAR to Kadri’s production while playing with Lupul and (insert name here). Give Kadri a chance, Bozak is a low end 2nd line centre.

      • Gary Empey

        I know people in the business that think Bozak is a 4th liner. I don’t think he’s that bad, he seems to be a solid player but I wouldn’t have him on my first line. That was a mistake from the get go.

      • Gary Empey

        low end 2nd line centre? can’t even crack 50 points with an elite sniper. far too kind. more like a 3rd line centre if he has elite line mates. no 3rd line has elite talent so no kessel = disaster for him. 30 points max.