What Exactly is Kadri’s Role with Leafs?
TORONTO – Nazem Kadri can’t help but ponder his lot in Maple Leafs life as he approaches the age of 26.
Entering his seventh full year of professional hockey, Kadri’s birthday is on Thursday and the Leafs centre acknowledged he is in an unfamiliar spot.
More precisely, does Kadri still think of himself as part of the Leafs’ youth movement or as a seasoned veteran?
“I have no idea, man, that’s something for you guys to figure out,” Kadri said with a chuckle on Monday.
“I’m flirting in between but definitely with all the young guys, I’m feeling a little bit older. I enjoy that, I enjoy playing in the league, I know it is a privilege and I feel like I can only get better.”
Kadri has taken on increased responsibility under coach Mike Babcock, and it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of match-ups the centre sees once the regular season begins.
The presence of Auston Matthews, and the length of time it takes for the 19-year-old to make a serious impact on a game-to-game basis, undoubtedly will influence the kind of players Kadri goes up against.
Babcock wasn’t ready yet to place Kadri in the group of savvy vets who are on the other side of growth. The same can be said of James van Riemsdyk, who turned 27 in May.
“All those guys, I see van Riemsdyk the same way,” Babcock said. “They are getting better, getting a lot better. We don’t have a whole lot of veteran guys, to be honest with you, we have (Matt) Hunwick and (Tyler) Bozak and (Leo) Komarov and guys like that. Those are the guys to me who are supposed to be setting the tone for us, for sure. The other guys are still in the growth process.”
Kadri never will lack for confidence, but with maturity, he’s a lot more measured than the kid who made his National Hockey League debut with one game during the 2009-10 season.
How does Kadri intend to demonstrate leadership qualities?
“Just doing things the right way on and off the ice,” Kadri said. “That is something I have really tightened up in the last couple of years, understanding how it works, what it means to be in the NHL, what it means to put on an NHL jersey.”
The Leafs will get their first look at Frederik Andersen on Tuesday night in Saskatoon when the team’s goalie of the present and future makes his Toronto debut in a pre-season game versus the Ottawa Senators. Signed to a five-year, $25-million US contract after the Leafs acquired him from the Anaheim Ducks in June, Andersen has been out of game action since suffering an upper-body injury while playing for Denmark in a pre-Olympic qualifying game early in September. “I don’t know how much he is going to play, but he is definitely going to play a period,” Babcock said. “We will see how he feels.” … Don’t expect to see forward Nikita Soshnikov any time soon. Hamstring issues have kept the speedy Russian out of camp drills, though he has been skating. “He had an imbalance between his quad strength and his hamstring strength, so what we have done is we have basically shut him down to get his hamstring strong enough so he is not getting hurt all the time,” Babcock said. “He is progressing well. Because he has missed camp, he is going to have to start with the Marlies.” Babcock said there is no set date for Soshnikov’s return … Based on practices on Monday, the line of Matthews between William Nylander and Zach Hyman will be intact in Saskatoon, as well as the van Riemsdyk-Bozak-Mitch Marner trio. There’s a chance Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev will form a pair on the blue line … Zaitsev has been making a positive first impression. “He’s going to play important minutes on the back end for us,” said forward Brooks Laich, sounding more like a coach. “He’s going to play special teams, he’s going to be a guy who is counted on to move the puck, break us out, and will be counted on for some offence, I’m sure.” Zaitsev does not say much in scrums with reporters, but his impeccable English has been documented. “He can speak better English than half the American guys we have,” Rielly said jokingly.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
The Leafs made four cuts, decreasing the number of players in camp to 49 (29 forwards, 16 defencemen and four goalies). Forwards Tony Cameranesi and Marc-Andre Cliche and goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo were sent to the Marlies, while forward Jeremy Bracco was returned to Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League … Rielly is looking more like an NHL defenceman thanks to a gap where one of his front teeth once was. Rielly lost the tooth during a World Cup of Hockey game against Sweden … Babcock summed up the quickie trip to Saskatoon, where he grew up, in a way that only he could. “It’s 31/2 hours there and 31/2 hours back,” Babcock said of the flight times. “That’s what it means. It’s a exhibition game and I will enjoy being there. In saying that, I would like it to be a half-hour away.”