The Nazem Kadri Dilemma
Training camps recently opened across the AHL, and with the opening of camp comes the days of physicals and fitness testing. It seems that highly hyped Maple Leafs’ prospect Nazem Kadri came to Marlies camp in something less than the best of shape. He was said to have a high body fat percentage, and to perform poorly in the team’s fitness testing and early on ice skating drills.
Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins was not impressed and didn’t just throw Kadri under the proverbial bus when he spoke to the media, he got behind the wheel and made sure he backed the thing over Kadri a few times before he was done.
Eakins ripped into Kadri saying, “His body fat today is probably in the bottom three to five guys in our whole camp and that’s unacceptable. That’s the easiest part of coming into camp is eating correctly and training correctly. There’s just no coming off if you’re an athlete, it’s no different than the normal person. You make your choice. You can either go sit on the couch, put your feet up and have a bag of potato chips or you can go on the couch and put your feet up and grab some carrots and some apples.”
A harsh critique of the young Kadri. A 22 year old forward who was drafted 7th overall by the Leafs at the 2009 Entry Draft, and was once seen as a key future piece to the Leafs forward core. Since that time, his development has somewhat stalled, and I think some of the blame for this needs to be placed at the feet of those in the Leafs organization.
Since being drafted the Leafs have repeatedly treated Kadri with “tough love”.
In 2009 Kadri dazzled at Leafs training camp, and was the team’s best player in preseason. Instead of giving the young forward a nine-game NHL tryout in regular season action, the club quickly dispatched him to London of the OHL and told Kadri to work on his defensive game. I’m sure the Leafs couldn’t have used a young sparkplug like Kadri to put up some offence early in the season, with Phil Kessel on the shelf. The Leafs would start the season with 1 win in their first 11 games.
In 2010-11 Kadri started with the Marlies. The Leafs meanwhile had a good start before falling on tough times and having a terrible month of November. Kadri was producing at near a PPG pace playing for the Marlies in the AHL, while the Leaf team was desperate for offence. The debate for calling up Kadri raged in the Toronto media. Then head coach Ron Wilson ripped Kadri publically, basically saying that he couldn’t play a responsible game in the neutral zone and that the Leafs weren’t going to call him up despite the points. It was the first of many public criticisms of Kadri’s game that would come from Wilson, GM Brian Burke, and now Marlies coach Dallas Eakins.
A few weeks later, with the Leafs season going further down the tubes, Kadri was eventually called up and he would score 3 goals and 12 points in 29 games as a rookie. Kadri also dazzled in NHL shootouts, scoring some highlight reel goals and getting the team some much needed wins in this session. Sure he didn’t light the league on fire, but it was a good start for a 20 year old in the NHL.
Last season, Kadri was again criticized for his offseason work out routine as the team felt he was too skinny and didn’t come into camp with enough muscle on his frame. He once again started the year with the Marlies. He did get a few callups and scored 5 goals for the Leafs in 21 games, despite limited top 6 ice time and powerplay time. Once again the critiques from Coach Wilson were strong after games. And the Leafs’ tough love approach continued.
Despite that, Kadri was returned to the Marlies where he was among their best and most productive players down the stretch and into the playoffs. Despite all the criticism he just keeps producing, but one must question how the constant critiques are effecting Kadri.
How has Kadri responded to the latest criticism? It seems he is defending himself, and not taking responsibility for the issues, saying the following. “It definitely maybe could’ve been a little better, but it’s definitely not bad. I think the way I’m carrying myself out on the ice, I feel stronger, I think my wind is way better than it was last year [and] I think that body fat did drop down from last year too.“ It seems Kadri believes he has improved his fitness over previous years, but I think Eakins would beg to differ.
I understand the Leafs are upset with Kadri, and I understand that coaches want him to get himself into shape, and also want to see him play a more responsible game on the ice. However, the question needs to be asked, is showing a player like Kadri “tough love” the way to do it? Is repeatedly openly criticizing a 22 year old kid in the media the best way to motivate him? I’m not sure it is.
This isn’t the first time a team has tried the tough love approach with Kadri. In the OHL Kadri started his career with the Kitchener Rangers. In Kitchener he would openly clash with coach Pete DeBoer in his second season, and despite scoring 65 points in 68 games that year, Kadri was shipped off to division rival London when the season concluded. The young Kadri rebelled against DeBoer’s “tough love” approach.
In London Dale Hunter took a more nurturing approach to Kadri (bet you wouldn’t see Dale Hunter and nurturing in a sentence) and it paid off, big time. Kadri blossomed into the player who would score 78 points in 56 games and be drafted 7th overall by Toronto. The next year, he was a legitimate OHL superstar with 93 points in just 56 games.
Perhaps the Leafs should try a more nurturing approach with Kadri. Obviously there are issues with his fitness and his game that need to be addressed, but maybe they should be addressed behind closed doors, and not in the full glare of the Toronto Media. Because the approach the Leafs have taken over the last 3 years is not working and Kadri is too talented a prospect to run out of town. The team needs him to become a productive forward if they are ever going to end the cycle of perpetual rebuilding.
It would be a shame if the Leafs were to go the way of the Kitchener Rangers, and trade Kadri, only to see him blossom and fulfill his potential elsewhere.
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