Is the chemistry between Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin for real? Leafs fans would like to think so.
Toronto has had many issues with its young players and developing talent properly in its recent past. While being one of the wealthiest franchises in NHL, they have not had much luck making the playoffs nor finding a true number one goalie since the lockout of 04-05 (it saddens me that I have to specify what lockout I am talking about). There also have been issues with development and drafting by the Leafs that may have added to them parting ways with Brian Burke, their last GM. I won’t bore you with the lack of success the Toronto Maple Leafs have had over recent years, as that could take a few days and cause many headaches.
So what about the good? The good comes in a pair of rare draft picks that have matured into two very effective players for the Maple Leafs right now.
Nazem Kadri was drafted in 2009 as a first rounder, 7th overall pick, and has been blessed with a slight chip on his shoulder. Maybe only Phil Kessel currently is carrying a larger one in the eyes of Leaf fans.
Matt Frattin on the other hand, was drafted in 2007, in the 4th round and 99th overall and was stashed away for a few years at the University of North Dakota. He was able to dominate the last year of his college career, but still arrived to the hockey pressure cooker with not much hype surrounding his name.
Matt Frattin is 25 years old and was cut from the opening night roster. He had a decent stint with the team last year where he settled in on the third line and was able to chip in 8 goals with 15 points in 56 games. Really, it was a decent debut, but was nothing to write home about compared to guys like Adam Henrique, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and so Frattin flew under the radar a little bit, even with his good play. The rookie was always going to slide in under the Nikolai Kulemin and Mikhail Grabovski pairing and end up on the 3rd line. There are things to like about him as he has decent size and is a fast skater that likes to crash the net. He also has a fairly quick release, but due to the third line duties did not see too much ice time last year. At his advanced age, he’s NHL ready and mature, a decent contributor, but lacks a high end ceiling, and probably maxes out as a 2nd or 3rd liner.
Still though, he’ll contribute to the Leafs for a long time, and he can also do this:
When we look at Nazem Kadri though, this is a kid who keeps getting better, and with his skill set the sky is the limit for him. Kadri is playing with a chip on his shoulder as a player with lots of skill but with tons of reports that claim he lacks work ethic. It would be fair to say that if he was Russian, he would have been titled lazy and enigmatic fairly quickly by everything and everyone with a Maple Leaf on their passport. Don’t take just my word for it, as our prospect expert and the writer behind Top Shelf Prospects, Ben Kerr, had him pegged the same in his look at the Toronto’s Prospects. This is what he had to say about the young center:
“Offensively Kadri has an amazing set of moves and some excellent dangles. He is just sublime with the puck on his stick and has the hands to deke out defenders in a phone booth. He is absolutely lethal in the shootout. His stickhandling is so good, that it can sometimes even cause problems, as Kadri needs to learn that he can’t deke out everyone at the NHL level and needs to use his other skills more. This is something that has gotten better though, and Marlies coach Dallas Eakins should get a lot of credit for that improvement. Kadri has a very good release on his wrist shot, and that helps him to score goals, however he could improve the velocity. He is a creative playmaker with excellent vision. Kadri is also not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice to make a play and excels when he works in traffic. He goes to the front of the net with the puck and works in the corners trying to get possession and make plays. He does need to get stronger though to win board battles at the NHL level.”
So, we can see that Kadri came with a bit more expectations, as there are tons of positives in his game. Kadri was given a chance a few times over the last few years to make the team, but failed to stick around do to his inconsistency. Something is different this year for both Kadri and Frattin. Kadri’s stats read 3 goals and 4 assists for 7 points and Matt Frattin has 5 goals and 2 assists, with a few huge goals coming against Buffalo and Washington.
These kids are doing much more with much less ice time than the expected big guns on Toronto. While Kadri gets the “Phill Kessel” treatment with over 54 % offensive starts, Frattin is only seeing 39% offensive zone starts and his wheels have managed to turn that into 44 % offensive zone finishes. This may have to do with the chemistry these two have developed rather quickly. In the opening game that Frattin appeared, he collected 3 points and 2 of those points involved Kadri. The both continued to collect points against Buffalo and really showed mind-mouth connection in the goal against the Washington Capitals. It was a definite top 10 goal worthy play. Against the Carolina Hurricanes this line continued to be effective and provided the lone goal for the struggling Maple Leafs.
What makes them effective? Well, for one these two kids are really good skaters. They skate fast and are very confident with the puck on their stick. Frattin has a very good shot that he has not been shy displaying this year scoring goals in many different ways and while his stats might come down to earth, if you are thinking of grabbing him in fantasy be weary of his 2.89 goals per 60 minutes epic pace and he is shooting at 57 percent (a pace that is impossible to maintain and should revert to the mean 8-12 % range in time). He is still very active and does try to shoot the puck as often as he can though which is a good thing.
Nazem Kadri on the other hand, is doing exactly what he was doing last year; basically shooting at about 17 percent (still a little high, but not crazy like Frattin). But this year he is taking a bit more shots, which will help him continue to score even as his shooting percentage reverts to the mean over time. Last year in 21 games he had 28 shots, but in the last 8 he already has 18. His vision is really starting to shine too, and he is starting to create more plays and set up his teammates.
Weather you believe the advanced stats I mentioned above and expect to see these two to slow down or if you believe that Toronto has found some real talent here, you can’t deny the fact that while other teams are struggling to find some secondary scoring (Buffalo, Sharks, Red Wings, and Rangers), Leaf fans should be thrilled as these two youngsters are providing that needed third line scoring. The two kids are also doing it at a fairly consistent rate. Kadri has a point in every Leafs game this season but two. If the first line on Toronto, mainly Phil Kessel, starts to produce on consistent basis, this team could have a very dangerous offense.
Now to work on that defense and goal-tending…and that is the Last Word.