Posts Tagged ‘Nazem Kadri’

With the upcoming Toronto Maple Leafs and NHL season now upon us, the pundits and experts are out taking their best shots at making some educated predictions as to where the teams will finish in the standings.  Most publications, TV stations and media outlets all concur on one particular fact: the Toronto Maple Leafs will not be a playoff bound team in 2010/11. 

Here is the projected opening night lineup:

Kris Versteeg Tyler Bozak Phil Kessel
Nik Kulemin Mikael Grabovski Clarke MacArthur
Freddy Sjostrom Tim Brent Colby Armstrong
Mike Brown Mike Zigomanis Colton Orr

 

Dion Phaneuf Francois Beauchemin
Tomas Kaberle Luke Schenn
Carl Gunnarsson Mike Komisarek

 

*JS Giguere Jonas Gustavsson

*starter

Making the playoffs is normally thought of as a successful season and the dividing line between playoff and non-playoff teams is often a very fine one.  I thought I would take a look at a few key factors in a playoff and non-playoff season for our beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  Now, this is based on Ron Wilson being the coach and the team utilizing his particular style and brand of hockey which is a more up-tempo, high pressure fore-check in all three zones.  Whether this is the appropriate strategy given the current makeup of the Maple Leafs remains to be seen and is an issue to be discussed on another day.

The Leafs will have to improve approximately twenty points in the Eastern Conference standings all things considered equal and with a few breaks here and there it can be possible.    Here are a few things to keep an eye as the season progresses and that fine dividing line we spoke about earlier between a successful or disappointing NHL season. 

THE LEAFS WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF: THE LEAFS WILL MISS THE PLAYOFFS IF: 
-A few forwards show great internal year over year improvement and development, specifically Kulemin, Grabovski and Bozak -The much needed secondary scoring is not found and teams focus all attention and energy on the Leafs top line
-Phil Kessel remains healthy and productive -Phil Kessel gets injured
-Tyler Bozak can maintain and productive point pace throughout 82 games -Tyler Bozak doesn’t possess the skill or ability to anchor the top line for an entire season
-The goaltending improves and we get a complete season of steady and solid play between the pipes -We get Vesa Toskala type goaltending again, for any stretch of the season
-Mike Komisarek and Francois Beauchemin play the way they are capable of playing -Our relatively deep defense core doesn’t shore up enough to lower scoring chances against
-Luke Schenn continues his development, forcing Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes a night -Luke Schenn’s development stagnates, at all
-Our special teams play is markedly improved -Power play and penalty killing rank in the bottom third of the league again
-Dion Phaneuf is rejuvenated and gives the Leafs a physical and offensive spark from the backend -Dion Phaneuf’s declining numbers continue
-Our bottom six forwards continue their strong play, bringing a defensive and physical edge -Our newly formed checking line (Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong) doesn’t provide a reliable, consistent and sustainable defensive presence
-We go .500 or better in shootouts and OT games -We continue to struggle gaining the extra point in OT/shootouts

 

The Maple Leafs will be improved and I doubt few could argue that much considering the Leafs might have won a few more games if Vesa Toskala simply left his stick and glove lying on the ice in front of his net as opposed to actually attempting to play goal.  He was one of the worst goalies statistically speaking of the last 10-15 years and for a team that was dead last on the penalty kill it’s not hard to see why the team improved so much when JS Giguere came aboard via trade.  The Leafs had absolutely no confidence in Vesa Toskala last season and it showed when they completely melted down late in games on numerous occasions and almost looked shaken when having to kill a penalty off.

I think one fact the ‘experts’ or pundits are overlooking is the internal improvement from a number of Maple Leafs, most notably Nik Kulemin and Luke Schenn.  Kulemin has the opportunity to blossom into an impact two- way forward capable of scoring upwards of 30 goals if he gets a few bounces, he possesses a lethal shot with a quick release and is starting to utilize his impressive size and strength to his advantage. 

Luke Schenn was the 5th overall selection in the draft for a reason.  For such a young defenseman with limited experience Schenn is calm and cool with the puck possessing solid instincts to go along with a huge frame capable of absolutely dominating opposing forwards physically.  Most defenseman aren’t fully developed until around age 25-27 give or take a year and Schenn is well on his way to becoming an Adam Foote type shutdown defender teams crave and simply do not grow on trees. 

Patience is needed with young defenseman more than any other position and I applaud Brian Burke for not using Schenn as a trade chip to acquire a borderline top six forward to appease the fan base starving for another solid scoring threat.  I guarantee teams would be lining up around the block to get a piece of a defenseman clearly ready to take a big step forward.  After a relatively slow start last season Schenn quickly rebounded and was among our best players down the stretch, and still posted 5 goals and 12 assists and was a positive plus 2 on a poor defensive squad.  I think this is the year Schenn takes his place among the games better young defensive defenseman.

So do the Leafs have what it takes to survive an 82 game season and put up enough points to seriously contend for a long overdue playoff spot?

Advertisements

Give Kadri time to develop, he'll be just fine.

With Leafs nation all abuzz with the pending preseason cuts and who will and won’t make the club out training camp I wanted to take this time to discuss Nazem Kadri again and basically to say, give the kid a break.  I am not going to feel sorry for him (or any pro athlete) as this is the life they chose and it is filled with amazing perks, monetary compensation and unfortunately in Toronto, a bit of additional pressure for a city starving for a hockey winner but I also feel it is time for a little perspective.

We have to face facts that while we wish he was ready for big league action and our supposed 2nd line centre but reality is Nazem Kadri is still a kid, literally.  Kadri was raised in a big Arabic household in a tight family oriented environment and as a male being raised in such a situation (coupled with the fact he was a minor hockey star at a young age) he was likely treated like a king from birth all the way through until now.  Kadri is more of a kid that a lot of ‘kids’ his age, and I feel he will just take a bit longer to develop both mentally and physically, but the gifts and sheer talent he has been bestowed by the hockey gods are undeniably great. 

Like a lot of kids who don’t leave the nest prior to turning 20 years old I doubt Nazem has experienced much in the way of real life experience or hardship and is still very much reliant on his parents for support, both emotionally and mentally.  Kadri is still a kid adjusting to a very different (and hectic) lifestyle and is also likely away from home for the first time in his life.  He just added approximately 15 lbs of muscle to a very slight frame and likely put his body through an unaccustomed workout regimen that has left him looking slightly slower and less explosive. 

If Nazem Kadri were a baseball player (say Kyle Drabek) he would barely be above ‘A’ ball at this point in his career and there would be zero expectations for an immediate and drastic impact in his first year out of junior hockey.  Tyler Bozak was a rookie for the Leafs in 2009/10 (at the age of 24) and he showed a lot of improvement during the course of the season last year but there were still some things lacking overall from his game early in the year, and he has four years on Nazem, think about that.  Kadri has most of the necessary ingredients to be a solid professional, just needs the time for them to properly simmer and cook.

Only the rarest of rare talents can step out of junior hockey as a boy and play a big time role in a man’s game, although I think we erred when Luke Schenn was not sent back to junior after being drafted 7th overall by the Leafs in 2008, Schenn unlike Kadri was basically a boy in a man’s body.  For every Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos there are countless others that are just not ready to step immediately into the world of professional hockey at the NHL level.

Brian Burke will bring Nazem Kadri into his office and explain to him that the Maple Leafs are happy with his progress thus far, he is coming off an exemplary  junior career and he should try his hardest to ignore the harsh media onslaught and go to the AHL with his head held high.  Work on improving the weakest facets of his game and get accustomed to playing against men and make the necessary adjustments as needed.  We’ll continue to monitor you closely and you are only a step or two away from returning to the big club but don’t worry about things you can’t control, just focus on playing hockey, a game you love.

Folks, Nazem Kadri is a fine young prospect I am hopeful that a bright and promising future lay ahead as a #2 playmaking/sparkplug centre but as Axl Rose said (or sang), what we all need right now is “just a little patience”. 

BRENT MAKING PLAY FOR 3RD LINE CHECKING ROLE

Tim Brent has made noise in training camp for the Leafs in 2010 and the 26 year old is apparently leading the race for the wide open 3rd line checking line centre role.  Brent signed with the Leafs in 2009 and played 33 games for the Toronto Marlies (13 goals, 15 assists in 33 games) and is known as a responsible defensive centre that can win some draws and chip in on the penalty kill.

A career minor leaguer since 2008/09 spanning 97 games Brent (6’0”, 200 lbs) has managed 33 goals and 57 assists, scoring at a 0.92 point per game clip.  He likely won’t be a big time scorer in the NHL but a career minor leaguer will absolutely work his tail off each and every night and it is possible that John Mitchell’s (the man who is most likely to be affected) Maple Leafs career is closer to coming to an abrupt end.

Mitchell has shown some promise but seems to lack ‘jam’ or the extra gear that would allow him to be a consistent and productive pro in the NHL.  It is possible he is one of the youngsters than Brian Burke and Ron Wilson refer to when they discuss the perceived ‘entitlement’ players sometimes feel because they play in a large market with constant attention from the media 24/7.

KEEP IT TO YOURSELF KRIS!

Among growing, disgusting and annoying trends, players who bite, chew and play with their mouthguards obsessively is something I could just as well go without!  I thought when Marco Belinelli (Raptors former swingman) was sent packing we wouldn’t have to endure a high profile player with his mouthguard on display all game, until Kris Versteeg came to town. 

Projected opening night line-up:

Versteeg-Bozak-Kessel

Kulemin-Grabovski-MacArthur

Sjostrom-Brent-Armstrong

Brown-Hanson-Orr

Phaneuf-Beauchemin

Kaberle-Komisarek

Schenn-Gunnarsson

Giguere/Gustavsson

This seems to be the preferred line-up (see below) for Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, at least early into training camp and preseason.  This line-up would not include John Mitchell, Marcel Mueller, Luca Caputi, Brayden Irwin, Jay Rosehill, Jeff Finger, Brett Lebda, Jesse Blacker and Matt Lashoff, among others.  I think it would be a real shame that Rosehill will not break camp with the team if this line-up holds as with the addition of the extremely effective Mike Brown he has become a bit redundant.

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Kadri-Armstrong

3 Sjostrom-Grabovski-MacArthur

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

1 Phanuef-Beauchemin

2 Kaberle-Komisarek

3 Schenn-Gunnarsson

Another player I feel could be AHL bound is London Knights standout centre Nazem Kadri.  He hasn’t looked himself (early) and barring a turnaround and some prolonged consistent play I think the AHL is just what he needs to continue his development physically and maybe more importantly, mentally.  It would be a good test for Kadri and the Leafs to see how we would potentially deal with the disappointment of beginning the year in the minor leagues.  Let’s face it Kadri isn’t Sidney Crosby (duh), he still has a long way to go and I think growing up a bit might actually be the first step and when I view him on most nights his overall body language to me screams ‘entitlement’.  Some of the top players in the game have honed their crafts in the underrated and valuable AHL.

So if Kadri is Toronto Marlies bound to begin the year, what are the Leafs options in terms of the most effective line-up?  I think the defence core remains the same until or unless one of the current “top six” either gets injured or is simply ineffective.  That is an extremely deep and promising group of defenders and with Luke Schenn appearing confident early, it will be a real area of strength for the team on the ice and in the front office should Brian Burke feel the need to address his weakness at the centre ice position by moving one of Kaberle, Beauchemin, Komisarek and depending if he gets blown away with an offer and he comes out of the gate strong, Schenn.

Here is my ideal line-up:

1 Kulemin-Bozak-Kessel

2 Versteeg-Grabovksi-MacArthur

3 Caputi-Mitchell/Kadri-Armstrong

4 Brown-Hanson-Orr

Honestly I do like the first line-up with Grabovski on the third line adding some solid scoring depth, but only if Nazem Kadri proves to be big league ready right off the bat, which so far (very early on) is just not the case.  So I moved Grabo up to the 2nd line centre role between newcomers Kris Versteeg and Clarke MacArthur.  This could prove to be a solid goal scoring line with all three players capable of sniping up to 20-25 goals while adding a nice touch of speed and skill to the line-up.  We brought in both Versteeg and MacArthur to pick up the scoring slack so no sense wasting either in a lesser 3rd line role. 

Speaking of the 3rd line, this is John Mitchell’s chance to prove he belongs, likely his last opportunity to do so in the NHL.  He’ll be between Luca Caputi and Colby Armstrong, both players who can skate, hit and hopefully score a few while playing a sound defensive game.  Caputi has shown up to camp in tremendous shape and looks to be bigger, stronger and most importantly faster on his skates.  He has been a big prospect for a few years and he needs to start showcasing that potential this season.  We already know what Armstrong brings, and he will be a fan favourite for his rambunctious style of play.  This could be an effective, abrasive and solid checking style line with the chance to pop in a few goals and make some things happen down low and on the cycle.

The argument for keeping Kadri on the team and playing with the 3rd line unit is simple, give him a chance to stay with the big club and hopefully simplify his game and improve his defensive shortcomings by throwing him into the fire.  It is doubtful the Leafs will want to do this and would likely prefer him starring in the AHL in a more prolific offensive role, but it’s a thought to ponder.

The 4th line is a pure energy and momentum changing line with two solid skating big men (Hanson and Brown) who aren’t scared to get their noses dirty and of course the Leafs heavyweight (Orr).  Mike Brown could prove to be one of Burke’s best offseason additions with his tenacity, strong skating and hitting tendencies and a bonus that he is a great penalty killer.  I like Christian Hanson and I think he deserves to be on this team and I look for a breakout season and a potential move up to the 3rd line depending on how Mitchell/Kadri performs.  Colton Orr brings his usual presence and huge right hand on a nightly basis and he could be the best pure fighter in Leafs history?

A lot of the Leafs success will clearly rest with the defence and as long as we stay healthy and each player plays up to his potential it should be one of the better groups in the NHL.  Goaltending will also be imperative to any potential playoff berth and I think I can safely say (knock on wood) that there is no way it can be any worse than what the sieve named Vesa Toskala provided us last season, especially early when we started so terribly.  JS Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson provide a pretty solid tandem and it finally appears we have a couple solid young tenders in the system in Jussi Rynnas, Ben Scrivens and Reimer.

We can make the playoffs a reality if:

-Phil Kessel stays healthy

-Tyler Bozak and Nik Kulemin play the entire season with Kessel and they continue building (and improving) on their success and chemisty from last season

-Dion Phaneuf scores 15+ goals and returns to the dominating (maybe slightly calmer) physical presence and power play star

-Luke Schenn forces Ron Wilson to play him 20+ minutes due to outstanding play, which in turn allows Brian Burke to move one of our excess defenseman (Kaberle) for a top notch centre

-Mikael Grabovski has a career year (60+ points)

-Nazem Kadri joins the Leafs half way through the season and starts to contribute at the big league level, consistently, adding much needed secondary scoring

-Versteeg, Armstrong, Brown, MacArthur, Komisarek, Beauchemin and Giguere simply play to their career norms, or slightly above

-Jonas Gustavsson’s play forces Ron Wilson to re-think the tandem due to extremely consistent performances

-Improved play from Hanson, Caputi, Mitchell and Kulemin

-Ron Wilson and the coaching staff improve the worst special teams in the history of the franchise, two years running

-We don’t start the year 0-7-1 and we drastically improve our putrid shootout record post lockout

What are your other keys to a successful Maple Leafs season?  What are you looking for from the team this year?  Who are you most excited, nervous, and anxious or worried about?

One game into a pre-season doesn’t mean a whole lot so I won’t focus on the final result of the game but rather give a few observation and musings from game one for the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Ottawa Senators in game the Leafs lost 5-0 and were booed off the ice at the conclusion, you have got to love Toronto fans!

-I know I have been harsh on him already after a relatively poor rookie tournament but Nazem Kadri appears to have taken a step back in terms of his speed and skating.  I know his offseason was focused on adding much needed strength and muscle mass but I think it might have been at the expense of Kadri’s bread and butter speed, agility and quickness.

Kadri appeared to be a boy amongst men tonight and didn’t show half the flash and dash that fans have come to expect from the junior hockey standout.  He turned the puck over and was basically a non-factor throughout the night other than a nice move in the second period that drew a penalty after he beat the defensemen Matt Carkner and was hauled down.  Kadri had ample time on the power play and really didn’t leave much of an impression one way or the other.

My feeling is Kadri begins the year with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, and hopefully Kadri uses that as motivation to improve himself with some hard work in a solid league for a Marlies team that promises to be an interesting and deep group.  I do not think Kadri is operating at one hundred percent currently or he really has put on too much weight for his style of play but he hasn’t been himself at first glance.  Mikael Grabovski is going to be our second line centre as I feel he is just a better option for the team at this point and has looked solid out of the gate.  We gave up a 2nd round pick for Grabo and it’s time we see a return on that investment, this could be the breakout year Grabovski believers have been looking for since his time in Montreal.

Kris Versteeg had some solid moments in the hockey game, showing some solid speed and hands as he knifed his way into the offensive zone on a few rushes and had a lot of hustle on the night.  He should be a solid if unspectacular performer for the season and could potentially be a 25 goal scorer if all things align correctly.

Colby Armstrong will be a fan favourite early and we finally have a player that can and will hit any and all players on the ice (including stars) which will force the opposing team to engage him in the aftermath of his handy work and hopefully in the process draw some opposing penalties.

-Veterans Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle had horrendous games and made the 2009/10 Maple Leafs powerplay look impressive with a shoddy display of eratic shooting from the point.

-Our best line on the night was easily Jay Rosehill/Christian Hanson/Mike Brown – all three looked strong on the forecheck and were throwing their weight around all night.  Hanson and Brown were two players that looked particularly strong and will likely be joined by Colton Orr to form a solid checking/energy line during the season.  Brown was a great addition for some much needed secondary toughness and he handled the bigger Simpson from the Senators in a spirited tussle.

Christian Hanson has obviously worked hard on his game in the offseason as he also looked to be in strong form with a strong puck pursuit and physical edge, I think he proves to be a solid 4th line centre with the potential to move into a more prominent 3rd line checking line centre role if he continues to impress.  Hanson is up to 230 pounds and kudos for the strong effort in the fight versus Brian Lee, easily winning the decision.

Marcel Mueller was basically invisible and Jerry D’Amigo didn’t get all that much ice time but showed flashes of speed when he did play, Brayden Irwin has big size but needs to make bigger strides to improve his skating if he intends to be a full time NHLer.

Matt Lashoff and Simon Gyspers didn’t look overly impressive on the blueline, while Brett Lebda had a couple promising moments and should add some depth on the blue line in case of injury.

-Goaltending was shaky at times with Jonas Gustavsson outplaying rookie Jussi Rynnas with the latter giving up a couple shaky goals.

With five games in five nights we will get a good look at a lot of different Maple Leafs, stay tuned for more updates, observations and musings!

As stated in my earlier post on some musing of the NHL Rookie Tournament involving the game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Chicago Black Hawks I was in attendance of the game last night and took the time to go over some observations and general feel of the game.  Here is a recap:

Nazem Kadri didn’t look that hot, he never got into the flow of the game and tried to do to much at times.  Most of my section was generally unimpressed with him not even hoping for highlite reel plays but to just play even an effective simple game with solid passing and positional play.  It wasn’t his night as he didn’t win draws or make much of an impact outside a nice hit or two.

**UPDATE: Nazem Kadri suffered a minor injury in last night’s game, which makes some sense to me given how he didn’t look like himself at all.  His body is likely going through hell right now with his first real off-season dedicated to conditioning and weight lifting to add some much needed strength and size to survive the rigors of a full NHL season.

Let him rest and come back strong for camp, this is a huge adjustment for him physically.

Sondre Olden looked unreal, flashing great speed and skill to go along with great size.  He could be a keeper going forward, possible steal?

Jerry D’Amigo is still a ways off, no chance he cracks the Leafs roster this season, who’s spot would he realistically take?

Brayden Irwin looked improved, slightly better skating (could it get worse?) and he won nearly every draw he took.  Still a long shot to ever play in the NHL though in a meaningful role, a possible 4th line centre?

Greg McKegg looked fundamentally sound (as advertised) but he has more flash and dash than I expected, definitely looks like a possible second liner scoring winger for the future.  Could McKegg be a more effective pro than Kadri, that was the talk making the rounds with some excellent and knowledgeable fans.

Jussi Rynnas looked shaky at best in the first period but settled down after that and made a few good saves as the Leafs were outshot and outplayed.  The Hawks goalie looked terrible all night and gave up a few questionable first period goals.

Jesse Blacker moved the puck nicely (no Keith Aullie tonight, who I really wanted to see!)

Korbinian Holzer had my entire section in awe, always in position and used his size and strength all night and was never beat one on one.  Good debut, could be a solid 5-6 d’man.

-Nobody from the Hawks wanted anything to do with tough guy Jamie Devane, he tried to get a couple things going with some opposing forwards, all for not. 

-Marcel Mueller looked impressive, he used his size and strength and big frame to his advantage.

-No Mike Liambas tonight (player suspended from the OHL for hit in 2010) as he wasn’t dressed, there was a lot of discussion surrounding him and his reputation.

Here is the entire roster as given by the JLC crew to each fan in attendance:

G – Andrew Engelage, 6’5″ – 206 AGE 22, Jussi Rynnas, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 23, Ben Scrivens, 6’2″ – 192, AGE 24

D – Keith Aullie, 6’5″ – 217 AGE 21, Jesse Blacker, 6’1″ – 190 AGE 19, Erik Burgdoerfer, 6’2″ 210 AGE 21, Dave Cowan, 6’4, 205 AGE 24, Marc-Andre Dorian, 5’11” – 172 AGE 23, Simon Gysbers, 6’4″ – 200 AGE 23, Korbinian Holzer 6’3″ – 205 AGE 22, Dallas Jackson 6’2″, 188 AGE 21, Drew Paris 6’4″, 200 AGE 22, Barron Smith, 6’5″ – 205 AGE 19

F – Sam Carrick, 6’0″ – 188 AGE 18, Andrew Crescenzi, 6’4″ – 195 AGE 19, Jerry D’Amigo, 5’11” – 208 AGE 19, Jamie Devane, 6’5″ 217 AGE 19, Brayden Irwin, 6’5″ 215 AGE 23, Nazem Kadri 6’0″? – 188 AGE 19, Mike Liambas, 5’9″ – 204 AGE 21, Greg McKegg 6’0″ – 190 AGE 18, Dale Mitchell 5’9″ – 200 AGE 21.