When Nazem Kadri
was going through the motions earlier in the season, he pointed to a conversation he had with Maple Leafs President Brendan Shanahan just 10 games into the season.
“I had a talk with Shanny about becoming a more complete player and not just being a one dimensional player. That’s something he wants me to do and something I want for myself,” he said.
This reveal by Kadri was on Nov. 28 when the Leafs were 11-8-3 and the makeup and strategy of the team was a little bit different.
A lot has changed, including the installment of an interim head coach. With times as tough as they are, the strategy for the newly assembled coaching staff (which includes Peter Horachek as head honcho and Steve Staios installed as an assistant coach) includes more one-on-one time with the players.
It’s part of the ongoing discussion to help the Leafs play better and find their game.
Prior to the Maple Leafs 4-3 overtime win over the Winnipeg Jets, assistants Staios and Steve Spott had a candid conversation with Kadri in an effort to help him improve.
“I just thought I had to keep taking strides in the right direction and just keep building as a player and keep doing the little things right,” said Kadri. “I mean, sometimes offensively things aren’t going to go your way. It’s a matter of how you accept the responsibility and just being able to do everything else right, like being strong in the faceoff circle or making a defensive play, being strong in the neutral zone, so it’s just really piecing everything together.”
The end result was the Leafs first win in six games, and Kadri’s first goal in eight games as part of a two-point night.
“Going through the stretch, we’ve been looking at a lot of different ways, the individual talks, what their game is, how their game is and what they’re going to do,” said Horachek. “That’s part of it, how are they contributing? What are they contributing at this time? We’ve gone through stretches with almost every single player where we thought that maybe they can contribute more in this area and that area. It’s a natural thing but we’re trying to keep that team basis so that they feel accountable to the team.”
The focus on Kadri being part of the solution for the Maple Leafs is evident. There are a lot of questions to be answered going into the trade deadline. After that, it will be the off-season. Like it does every year, changes will be the name of the game. The roster will always look different.
He’s averaging a season high 17:33 per game and while the points haven’t accrued at the pace of years past, his overall game is continuing to prove. He has earned more trust from the coaching staff to be that complete player he is striving to be.
“I’ve kind of tried to assume a bigger role every single year,” Kadri adds. “I’m just trying to earn the responsibility and faith of my teammates and coaching staff. It’s about working hard and understanding that’s it’s not just about scoring goals, that’s obviously going to come, it’s about being a 200-foot player and that’s what I want to be.”
The sky is the limit for Kadri, including next season if he’s asked to be more of a leader.
“Still being a young guy, every year you try to make steps in the right directions. If that means being more vocal or trying to become more of a leader, I’ve had that before in my junior team and things like that. If I’m called upon I’ll do whatever I can to help the team win and help them feel more comfortable. If that’s what happens, it happens,” he said.