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Leafs Look To Kadri For Spark

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Did Nazem Kadri’s AHL career end in a game misconduct?

It will take a long time to find out, but Kadri is going to need just that kind of aggressiveness, maybe a touch more, to thrive with the Maple Leafs at 20 years old.

Kadri and defenceman Keith Aulie were pulled up to the big club, Friday. Forward Christian Hanson and defenceman Korbinian Holzer were sent back down.

In the Marlies last game against the Adirondack Phantoms, Kadri annoyed several opponents toward the verge of violence. That he was tossed for overenthusiastic criticism of an official wasn’t icing on the cake, but then again, it didn’t hurt.

Nazem Kadri isn’t Sean Avery. His game isn’t based on trying to antagonize opponents and then waltzing off the ice with a goal and a win. Avery is working a very narrow boardwalk. For better or worse, he’s the only one.

But lost in Kadri’s 93-point final season of junior was his 105 penalty minutes. The return of his assertive game, even in the wake of a goalscoring slump that saw him score only once in his last six AHL games, likely prompted the Leafs to bring him back.

He has a few things in his favour. For all the talk of the Leafs youthfulness, there is something about a seven-game losing streak that speaks to a need for energy. Kadri can’t supply all of that, but he can bring a little. He’s selling what the big club needs.

Second, he will play on a line with Tyler Bozak and Nikolai Kulemin. Kulemin has been the Leafs’ best-all around forward and his defensive game will fill in Kadri’s major deficiencies. As a second line left winger, Kadri will get plenty of ice time. Bozak, whose ability to find Phil Kessel seemed to vaporize as the season elapsed, gets a new target and another chance.

This, of course, has been the most widely-anticipated roster move of the season and clearly it’s one the Leafs would have preferred not to make. Keeping Kadri with the Marlies, at least until Christmas, came without risk. Bouncing the kid between the big club and the Marlies looks a little dicier.

Still with Colby Armstrong two weeks to a month away from returning to the lineup, Kadri will be playing with house money for a while.

It will be plenty obvious if Kadri’s still fledgling pro game is built on sand or stone and this is where Kadri’s cocksure nature has to take over.

He needs an edge of certainty to navigate what could be the early days of a productive NHL career. He will need even more if today’s move proves a misstep that only he can set right.
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