Nazem Kadri says the summer of 2015 has been his best away from the rink. He'll look to channel that into his best on the ice when training camp kicks off in two weeks.
Kadri signed a one-year contract extension with the club on July 5. Following the announcement, Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he expects his 24-year-old centreman to be "elite" this season and earn a much bigger deal one year from now.
"If I’m him, I’m going to have the best year of my career because I’m training the way I should and living the way I should," said Babcock.
As the return to the ice approaches for the Leafs, early indicators are that the Leafs will get just that from Kadri.
"I've had contract years before and I know how to handle myself heading into the season. Coming out of this offseason I don't think I've felt better," said Kadri. "The confidence is there knowing you've put in the work and put in the extra time to get yourself ready for this moment."
"If you put in the work and you know your capabilities and your abilities, everything comes along with that."
Kadri has cited a good summer in the gym as a springboard for what should be improvement on the ice. While still a young player, he has hit an age where his body is now more responsive to strength training and he is seeing the results.
"A lot of explosive movement, a lot of agility, a lot of footwork. Just continuously working on my speed and obviously the strength," said Kadri. "I think my lower body is a whole different ballgame. I've become a lot stronger in my lower body, which is what you need to keep up with the best players."
Physical progression in Kadri is an exciting development for the Maple Leafs.
Kadri finished the 2014-15 season with 39 points in 73 games, which placed him fourth on the club. Over the course of last season he got the better of the League's top centres at times but, like much of the team, his struggles mirrored that of a squad which couldn't gain traction after Christmas.
The Leafs have beefed up their approach to Sport Science and Performance in the offseason and will look to cultivate an elite level of conditioning in their players over the duration of the season. While conventional wisdom has dictated that players come into camp in great shape and try to maintain that level throughout the year, the Leafs will look to see progress in their group from training camp through game 82.
That revamped physical conditioning alone could help curtail any lulls in the back half of the 2015-16 season and provides additional room for growth in a young roster.
With his offseason commitment squared away, Kadri will now focus on earning ice time under his new head coach. Mike Babcock's arrival in Toronto not only presents a fresh start for the franchise on a macro level, but a clean slate for individual players as well.
Kadri hasn't historically been a first option for previous Leaf coaches at even-strength or the power play but he believes he'll have the support of the current staff to grow into those roles.
"I'm excited, I'm super excited. I know he's a guy that I could thrive under," said Kadri. "He's a guy that believes in me and that's motivating in itself. I think he shows a lot of belief, not just in myself, but in the whole team."
"Whenever you have a head coach that believes in you and thinks you can go in the right direction, it's all the more motivating."
The Maple Leafs open training camp on Sept. 17.