So I took in the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. the Chicago Blackhawks rookie squad tournament game tonight and I am going to make a bold prediction, there wasn’t one single Maple Leafs player that is a first line forward or top two defensemen playing tonight, Nazem Kadri included. Don’t get me wrong, Kadri is a fine hockey player and can add a lot to a team but I have never been that sold on him as a first line centre going forward and I think at best he is a poor man’s Scott Gomez, while at worst he could be run out of town by the brutal Toronto media.
Kadri looked awful, he couldn’t win a faceoff, he went 1 on 3, he made bad passes and he looked anything but a promising dynamic offensive player. Now, it was only one game, and a rookie squad tournament game at that, but Kadri did not look good tonight and I think the jury is out on him league wide. What type of player can a smallish forward truly become in the NHL without the overall pedigree and skill set of say a Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise or Taylor Hall, players who have absolutely dominated at every level of hockey.
The night started at a local pub outside the John Labatt Centre in London, Ontario – a great city and a great venue. I had noticed a large family sitting at a table near my wife and I while we were having a few drinks and I kept saying to her that the man (father) at the table looked familiar, when he left it hit me, Nazem Kadri’s father and family, pretty cool. When we got to the JLC who was sitting in the box basically right beside us? Brian Burke, Ron Wilson and the Maple Leafs brass – taking in the tournament and scouting out some future Maple Leafs Marlies prospects. I doubt they were too impressed and during the intermission there packed box was intently watching some college football (American colleges of course).
The Leafs were soundly outplayed by the Blackhawks rookie squad and were it not for absolutely shabby goaltending from the Hawks tender the score would have been quite different in my opinion. Leafs goaltender (and future Marlies goalie) Jussi Rynnas looked shaky in the first period but settled down and overall played a pretty solid game. Other players who made a strong impression in my eyes were forwards Greg McKegg (62nd overall pick in the latest draft), Bradley Ross (43rd overall) as well as defensemen Jesse Blacker and hulking European Korbinian Holzer who never looked out of place and played a strong two-game game.
Brayden Irwin hardly lost a faceoff and played a solid two-way game but the Leafs player I was most impressed with was easily Norwegian forward Sondre Olden. Olden, drafted 79th overall in 2010 showed unbelievable speed and skill and was easily the best Leafs forward all night with his consistent effort and drive in all situations on the ice. Invisible or ineffective were Jerry D’Amigo (awful passing and turnovers, very ineffective) and the aformentioned Nazem Kadri while Marcel Mueller looked to be a man playing against boys as he flashed great strength, size and puck control on more than a few occasions, definitely promising.
As I looked at the Leafs press box and saw Brian Burke (who killed at least 4 coffees) I couldn’t help but think that he wished Tyler Seguin was in camp and trying to impress the Leafs brass as opposed to this relatively lacklustre group that is likely filled with future Marlies and maybe less than a handful of future Leafs (role) players. I know we all love Phil Kessel but seeing what rookies are currently in the system is a bit depressing and if they were ranked league wide the Leafs would definitely be in the bottom half (or quarter) of the league in terms of young talent in the pipeline, without a doubt.
Luckily our major league roster is actually somewhat filled with solid talent (25 years and younger) because the stream of talent from our drafts and minor league system looks pretty bare and with no first round picks coming from last draft or the upcoming draft it isn’t likely to improve much from here. Please don’t take this as a doom and gloom piece, we are finally building up some much needed depth and there is definitely talent within our system, but it is obviously lacking (according to most respected league sources) in any top end dynamic talent outside of hopefully Nazem Kadri, but Kadri is undersized and unproven and I hope in six months I am eating my words but for now I remain sceptical.