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Kadri confident he can play with the big boys now

Thursday, 09.02.2010 / 1:17 PM / 2010 Offseason News

By Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Kadri confident he can play with the big boys now
Maple Leafs prospect Nazem Kadri spent the summer getting bigger and stronger, which makes him confident he can handle the rigors of playing in the NHL this season.
Nazem Kadri has a distinct memory from his first and only game as a Toronto Maple Leaf last season, and it's not a good one.

The wide-eyed 19-year-old center glided toward the center-ice dot at Air Canada Centre to take the opening faceoff against San Jose Sharks star Joe Thornton. But before Kadri knew what was happening, Thornton had won the draw -- easily -- and the game was under way.

"I was just in awe. I didn't know what to think. I wasn't exactly ready to go," Kadri said this week. "I'm pretty sure he won the faceoff all the way back to his goalie."

It didn't get much better for Kadri that night. He was held without a shot in 17:26 of ice time and finished minus-1 in a 3-2 loss.
 
"That's something I have to work on," Kadri said. "Definitely in the NHL, you have to always be ready."

Kadri shouldn't worry too much, because there's a pretty good chance he is going to get 82 chances this season to improve on his NHL debut.

The London, Ont., native likely will see top-six minutes with the Leafs starting in October after totaling 35 goals and 58 assists in 56 games with the OHL's London Knights last season.  Leafs GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson were concerned with Kadri's lack of size -- he was carrying about 170 pounds on his 6-foot frame when he arrived in Toronto last season -- but Kadri said he bulked up to about 197 pounds during the offseason.

"It was all business this summer," Kadri said. "I just worked as hard as I could. The beginning of the summer I didn't really skate at all. I was just trying to pack on weight and get that part of my game going and get the size on me. No breaks for me this summer. It was all work, work, work, and that's how it's got to be if you want to make the NHL.

"This year, I just feel like the opportunity is there and I don't want it to pass me by. I want to do everything I can to achieve my goal and play in the NHL full-time next year."

There's no denying Kadri has all the tools to be one of the NHL's top young players. Burke said he believes Kadri could have a similar rookie season to the one Matt Duchene (24 goals, 31 assists) had with the Colorado Avalanche last season. Wilson has said he sees Kadri as a potential No. 1 center down the road, and maybe even as soon as this season.

But Kadri isn't looking that far ahead. He's not even looking toward Leafs training camp; his first order of business is having an impressive showing at Leafs' rookie camp, which starts Sept. 11 in his hometown of London.

"I'm pretty excited about that," Kadri said. "That's just one of the stepping stones to make the NHL. It's not a one-step process. The rookie camp is the first steppingstone to making the National Hockey League. It just gets me ready for (training) camp. That gets me in the right state of mind, especially the conditioning.

"I want to project myself as a top-two line guy, and I feel like I'm ready to take on that responsibility.  But I could go from being a No. 1-, No. 2-line center to not even making the team. I'm pretty confident in myself. I know what I can do, I know what I can bring into camp and hopefully the coaches see it."

Captain Dion Phaneuf knows Kadri's importance to the Leafs, and that's part of the reason he invited him to spend time with him this summer at his home on Prince Edward Island. They were there to take part in a Special Olympics event in July, but Kadri said it was nice to have the team's leader take time to give him some words of wisdom.

"He told me to keep working hard and things will come," Kadri said. "Just keep doing what I'm doing, don't try to shy away from my game. Just do what got me here. I think it's great advice coming from a guy like him. It's nice when you have guys like that take you under their wing. It means a lot to me."

Phaneuf, at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds, would have liked to have worked out with Kadri during his visit, but complications arose that prevented the training session from happening.

"I was going to work out with him," Kadri said. "He was actually heckling me a little bit about that. It wasn't my fault. The plane got in a little bit late, so I got out of it."

At least Kadri enjoyed a home-cooked lunch from Phaneuf.

"Dion Phaneuf makes a mean chicken breast," Kadri said. "I'm not going to lie."
"It was all business this summer. I just worked as hard as I could. The beginning of the summer I didn't really skate at all. I was just trying to pack on weight and get that part of my game going and get the size on me. No breaks for me this summer. It was all work, work, work, and that's how it's got to be if you want to make the NHL." -- Nazem Kadri
Honesty also is Burke's bread and butter; he won't pull any punches or hold back on criticism of his players. That's something Kadri appreciated when discussing what the Leafs expect of him this season.

"(Burke) said it's up to you from now on," Kadri said. "You've got your foot in the door. It's time to knock it down. He's going to give me the opportunity. I just had to tweak a few things. I have to physically get ready for the National Hockey League. I'm not playing with boys anymore. It's all men. I think I'm physically ready to play in the National Hockey League."

Confidence certainly isn't a problem for Kadri, whether it's in himself or in the Maple Leafs. He feels he's ready to compete in the NHL, and he's also expecting big things for the team, too.

"There's definitely a winning season coming up in Toronto, for sure," he said.

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo


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