TORONTO - Marlies training camp began with a thud for Nazem Kadri.
Among the most hyped Leaf prospects, but still short on serious production, Kadri kicked off his third season in the American Hockey League with underwhelming results, notably a lacking physical fitness.
"His body fat today is probably in the bottom three to five guys in our whole camp and that's unacceptable," said Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins. "That's the easiest part of coming into camp is eating correctly and training correctly.
"There's just no coming off if you're an athlete," Eakins continued. "It's no different than the normal person. You make your choice. You can either go sit on the couch, put your feet up and have a bag of potato chips or you can go on the couch and put your feet up and grab some carrots and some apples."
The seventh overall pick in the 2009 Draft, Kadri boasted of an offseason spent training under the direction of famed fitness guru and former NHL player Gary Roberts, noting a discernable shift in both training and eating habits. But after the opening days of camp, the stinging results rung louder than the talk.
"It definitely maybe could've been a little better," said Kadri of the disappointing body fat results, "but it's definitely not bad. I think the way I'm carrying myself out on the ice, I feel stronger, I think my wind is way better than it was last year [and] I think that body fat did drop down from last year too."
An admittedly "picky eater" Kadri spoke of adjustments to his diet in concert with Roberts, adding unfavourable foods such as squash, quinoa rice and spinach. "There was a huge adjustment," he said. "That's why I did drop [the body fat] a little bit. Maybe I could've dropped it a little more, but for the most part I'm happy with where I am, I'm happy with how I feel on the ice, I'm happy with my conditioning and my endurance. My lower-body feels strong and I honestly I just can't wait to translate that to a game-form."
In addition to the off-ice testing, Kadri also underwent a series of on-ice tests designed to measure physical fitness, producing "average" results in general, lagging far behind heat-mates Jerry D'Amigo and Nicolas Deschamps, both superior skaters to that of Kadri.
Eakins stressed that the 21-year-old was not unlike many young players in regards to his questionable eating habits, but with such lofty expectations – including a self-proclaimed readiness for the NHL – the results were an obvious misfire.
"It takes time," said Eakins calmly. "It takes time. You'll see guys, they're young, they're still kind of in the junk-food mode and they'll eat wherever they can. And then there's other guys as they mature they understand the importance of their nutrition and the fuel that they're putting in their machines - which is their bodies - and they get it. And that will come.
"And it's not just Nazem Kadri. It's almost every one of our young players. You come out of junior and when you get on that bus, you're grabbing Snicker bars and whatever and your mom and dad aren't looking over your shoulder any more. But if you're going to be a professional athlete you're a professional athlete. You're no different than those Canadian Olympic members, any of those people. You have to look after what you're putting in your body. And it's like I tell them all the time, 'You can put the high-octane gas in your car and it will go great. Now if you go urinate in your tank your car is not going very far.' So it's the same with your body, you put good fuel in you're going to go further, you put junk in, you're done."
Kadri produced a solid if unspectacular season a year ago, totaling 40 points in 48 regular season games, before adding 10 points in 11 playoff games. Expectations have been sky-high for the London native since his draft year in 2009, but the necessary dominance and finely crafted professionalism required to succeed at the NHL level has not been evident enough in the AHL on a consistent basis.
"I'm still a young guy," he concluded. "I'm slowly learning how to be a pro and what types of food to put into my body, but it's not like you're all going to get it in a couple months, you're going to start to figure it out, you'll gradually get the hang of it as you go."