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Kadri Ready For His Shot With Leafs

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Perhaps it’s a measure ofhockey’s accelerating  hunger for new faces, but Nazem Kadri had his picture taken for his NHL hockey card, Wednesday.

The Leafs’ 19 year-old rookie, naturally enough, was thrilled. Other than your first per diem cheque, nothing says the NHL like a card with your face on it.

“I have a feeling I will get some goosebumps because it is really unbelievable,” Kadri said before the cameras rolled for the 2010 NHLPA Rookie Showcase in which 23 prospects including Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin  were photographed for posterity. “I grew up collecting these cards.”

The pre-amble for Kadri’s rookie season has been written. Chosen seventh overall in 2009 the London native flashed the skills and jam to be an NHLer but not the size. Sent back to the London Knights to get bigger and dominate the OHL, Kadri did pretty well. He scored 35 goals and recorded 93 points in just 56 games. He was also productive in the post season with nine goals and 27 points in just a dozen games.

His arrival in Toronto would be particularly well-timed. The Leafs have upgraded on the wing with Kris Versteeg and Colby Armstrong but the centres are another matter.

Tyler Bozak flashed fine chemistry with Phil Kessel and recorded 27 points but he has played just 37 NHL games.

Mikhail Grabovski is coming off a disastrous 10-goal season. Christian Hanson was re-signed but he remains raw and John Mitchell and Mike Brown aren’t big scorers.

Into this void, strides Nazem Kadri who, in the sunniest of projections, would hold down the second line.

He is certainly doing the right things. Kadri has been spending the work week pumping iron in Toronto and heading home to London for the weekend.

He has gained 17 pounds, mostly in the upper body.

Nazem Kadri is an enormously confident speaker. He isn’t polished, like many of the rookies at the photo session. He just loves to talk and he’s very good at it. Clearly, he is ready for the media relations part of the job.

“The opportunity is a huge one,” he said of cracking the Leafs’ roster. “It’s just whether I grasp it or not.  By all means I have not made this team yet. I have to keep working hard and give them a reason to hopefully put me on the top two lines."

The biggest impediment for many aspiring NHLers isn’t a lack of talent, but instead a shortage of confidence.  Pro sports is a jungle; if you can be intimidated, you will be. Kadri said that element of his game is as developed as any.

“I think that’s what you need to make it in the NHL. You’ve got to be confident in yourself. You also have to have other people know you are confident. That’s part of the game of hockey: guys are going to try to get under your skin. Yeah. I’m a pretty gritty player and I am going to carry that on to the NHL.”

If the rough stuff comes, the Leafs won’t be undersized. Six-foot-four Mike Komisarek is back from a shoulder injury. Dion Phaneuf plays with plenty of attitude and the newly signed Colby Armstrong can be terrible to play against.

“It’s definitely a safety factor,” said Kadri. “Being on the ice with those guys you can almost guarantee that nothing is going to happen. I can focus on my game and not on  anyone else.”

Kadri says he has one added advantage, the one-game emergency callup he enjoyed February 8 when the Leafs played San Jose at Air Canada Centre.

“I think it just gives you that confidence factor knowing you have played already and you have had a little sample of what it takes,” he said.

Luke Schenn, who also played with the Leaf as a 19-year-old, said arriving in the league a year after junior hockey has some pitfalls, especially in Toronto.

“There’s lot of expectations,” Schenn said, “but the minute you start listening to everyone outside the rink, people tell you how good you are and you forget what got you here.”

Kadri insists that won’t happen with him.

“There is still a lot of work to do. If I am in the NHL, I have to keep working to stay in the NHL.”

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