TORONTO – Since the electric days of his first training camp with the Maple Leafs in the fall of 2009, Nazem Kadri has been a lightning rod in the city of Toronto, a constant source of attention in times both good and bad.
"I learned that the first year I came here, not to pay attention to many people outside the dressing room," the 23-year-old said on a noisy Friday afternoon. "All those blogs, newspapers and people saying what they want to say, they have their own opinion, but at the end of the day I'm not hearing it."
Kadri is trudging through the longest slump of what is, in reality, a brief NHL career. Though he remains on pace for a respectable 19 goals and 47 points, he has just one goal in the past 16 games and a quiet 14 points since the start of November – a stretch of 31 games.
"I think it's been decent," said Kadri of his season so far, which has him sitting fourth in team scoring with 27 points. "[But] I know I can bring a lot better. Obviously, everyone expects a lot more, which is a little flattering to say the least, because people believe in you and understand that you can give more to the team. No one expects more than I expect from myself."
In midst of those struggles is bubbling trade speculation, which Toronto general manager Dave Nonis addressed in an interview with TSN Radio on Thursday.
"There's a lot of interest in Nazem Kadri," said Nonis. "Would we be willing to trade him? Yes, we'd be willing to trade him. But there's a big difference between willing to and trying to."
Kadri, for one, has no interest in a potential move.
"It'd be terrible," Kadri said of a possible trade. "I don't see it happening and I don't want it to happen. This is my home, this is where I want to be and 'til otherwise I'm going to give them everything I have."
Though his career seems like it's spanned ages in Toronto, Kadri is still just 23 and midway through only his second NHL season. The point is, he's young with plenty of opportunity and time for growth and development ahead.
Patience is a virtue often lost, however, on youthful talent in this city.
A first round selection of the organization in 2002, Alex Steen, for example, was dealt to St. Louis as a 24-year-old, gradually evolving into one of the game's better two-way forwards with the Blues.
Nonis has pledged an unwillingness to repeat such mistakes, firm in his stance that young talent only be moved if something was similar was gained in return.
Unlike last season, when Kadri totaled a blistering 44 points in 48 games, the London, Ontario native has suffered through an extended rough patch, facing more difficult competition in light of injuries – including a 12-game stretch as the team's no. 1 centre – while regressing statistically with some of the luck that made his first full campaign in the NHL so alluring.
And unlike October, when he totaled 13 points in 14 games, Kadri and the team's second power-play unit have been unproductive. In fact, he has just one power-play point in the past 19 games.
"With him, it's back to basics and I thought that he played better [recently], but hasn't had the offensive output," coach Randy Carlyle said of Kadri. "It's up to Nazzie to put his nose to the grindstone, to do the little things, get involved physically, move the puck, keep it simple, and make plays when he's inside the blueline – deep enough that we don't have to risk the turnover."
"It just seems like pucks are hitting skates or goalies are just getting a piece of it and they're hanging on the goal-lines, hitting posts – I've had the whole nine yards over the past couple weeks," said Kadri, who last scored in New York on Dec. 23. "Hopefully, my luck's going to change because it can only get better from here."
His line, which includes Joffrey Lupul and Mason Raymond, has been quiet and kept in in tow. Lupul has gone pointless in 12 of the past 18 games, while Raymond has a mere two goals in 21 outings.
"[The] past few games we've been sniffing," said Kadri, confidence dinged but not broken. "I think every single game we're up to four, five, six, sometimes seven scoring chances a game – A-plus scoring chances – so it's only a matter of time before those pucks start finding the back of the net and we get that confidence and swagger back."
It was only last season, albeit in the American League, that Kadri endured similar struggles with the Marlies. He scored just twice in the first 18 games (with the NHL locked out) and was scratched by then-head coach Dallas Eakins in early November.
Outside noise was then, like it is presently, loud and sometimes lacking in the realities that come with the development of a young player. Kadri, who emerged from that spell with 10 points in four games, is well schooled to taking it all in stride.
"It's not like I'm going home, turning on the radio to listen to what everyone has to say because at the end of the day it doesn't really matter," he said. "I've got to worry about myself and what I can contribute to the team."