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Time To Rise And Shine For Kadri

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
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Leaf rookie Nazem Kadri has to get it done.

That was the not-so subtle message from Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson prior to the Leafs preseason opener tonight against the Ottawa Senators at Air Canada Centre.

“I’ve got to see if Nazem Kadri can play in the NHL,” said Wilson. “I’m not handing him a job, he’s got to earn it.”

Kadri, the Leafs first choice, seventh overall in the 2009 draft, showed well in training camp last year and then returned to the London Knights where he enjoyed a 93-point season.

After adding about 15 pounds in offseason conditioning, Kadri did not stand out at rookie camp and has not been a substantial presence during scrimmages.

Clearly, Wilson is looking for more in the preseason.

“I’ve got to see if Nazem Kadri can play in the NHL,” he said. “I’m not handing him a job. He’s got to earn it. He has to find a way to put points up there. He can’t let us down defensively.”

Kadri’s future is one of the major issues of training camp. He is 19 so there should be no immediate pressure to play in the NHL.

But the Maple Leafs are weakest down the middle. Number one centre Tyler Bozak has played only 37 NHL games so he is a gamble. Mikhail Grabovski is coming off a horrid 10-goal season. John Mitchell, Christian Hanson and Mike Brown seem more suited for the third and fourth lines.

That leaves a noticeable hole in the middle of the second unit. No matter how much Wilson speaks of Kadri needing the proper seasoning, the Leafs are hungry for a number two centre and Kadri’s speed and offensive imagination make him a strong candidate even if his lack of experience does not.

“A centreman’s job is a huge job,” Wilson said. “Not many 19-year-olds come in and earn a first or second-line position. Unless he’s going to be on your top two lines, maybe in our case the third line is reasonable as well. But if we three guys playing better than him, we have to decide what we are going to do. It’s up to Naz to get the job done.”

Kadri will play three of the club’s next five exhibition games. The Leafs and Sens will play a rematch on Wednesday. Thursday, the Leafs will play Philadelphia in London.

Kadri will play between Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg.

Brayden Irwin will centre Marcel Mueller and Jerry D’Amigo. Mike Zigomanis will centre Ryan Hamilton and Joey Crabb. The fourth line will be comprised of Jay Rosehill, centre Christian Hanson and Mike Brown.

Jonas Gustavsson will make the start tonight. He will be replaced midway through the game by Jussi Rynnas.

The defence pairings will feature Dion Phaneuf and Tomas Kaberle, Carl Gunnarsson with Brett Lebda and Simon Gysbers and Matt Lashoff.

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