TORONTO -- The local reaction to Nazem Kadri's breakout NHL season for the Toronto Maple Leafs has varied, ranging from, "What took you so long?" to "Wow, I thought you'd have to be traded to finally make it here."
The reality, though, is after a few false starts, the 22-year-old is proving beyond any reasonable doubt he belongs in the NHL. Entering their game Monday against the New York Rangers, Kadri leads the Maple Leafs with 17 goals, and his team-best 39 points place him 11th in the League. There have been times in the past few weeks when he has been comfortably inside the top 10, and it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest he ultimately will finish there.
Not bad for someone who, only a few months ago, was a healthy scratch with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. While Kadri has not yet earned the role of No. 1 center on a team trying to make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004 -- that spot belongs to Tyler Bozak, who skates between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk -- he has become a main cog in Toronto's blossoming offense. When Kadri and left wing Joffrey Lupul are in the lineup together, they have shown signs of becoming a dynamic duo.
"He has always had the potential and skill to be a phenomenal player, but I am a little surprised because he seems to have exceeded everyone's expectations … perhaps even his own," said Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Fraser, who played with Kadri on the Marlies last season and again during the NHL lockout this season. "I have no doubt that he believed he could do this in the NHL, but to do it in your first full season is pretty impressive."