Desperate for offence and in the midst of a seven-game losing skid, the Toronto Maple Leafs have decided to give their top prospect Nazem Kadri a chance.
The club called up the seventh overall selection in the 2009 draft on Friday from the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, along with defence prospect Keith Aulie.
"In an ideal world, if we had won a few of our last games, we'd probably give (Kadri) a little bit longer," said Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. "But he has made the adjustments we've asked him to. He's cut down his turnovers, he's drawing penalties almost every night by getting hauled down, he's been responsible and he's been good offensively. So he's made a lot of the transformation we needed him to make.
"In an ideal world, maybe another couple of weeks, maybe another three weeks. But it's not an ideal world. We're scuffling here."
The Maple Leafs have averaged 2.13 goals per game this season, with just nine in the last seven games. Only the struggling New Jersey Devils have scored less than Toronto this season.
Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said he hoped Kadri would help on special teams.
"Nazem has the skills that our powerplay needs," Wilson said. "And if he does here what he's been doing in the American League on the powerplay, then our powerplay will pick up some steam, I think."
In 14 games with the Marlies, Kadri has five goals and nine assists and has a plus-minus rating of plus-2.
Aulie, who has also played 14 games with the Marlies, has one goal and three assists with 25 penalty minutes.
Burke said he told Kadri and Aulie they were not expected to save the team's season.
"The group has to turn this around," Burke said. "Twenty players have top fix this, not one player, not two players. I told Nazem and Keith Aulie the same thing. They're not saviours – just play your game."
Still, Kadri said he hopes to make an impact.
"The reason they brought me here and the reason they drafted me was to kind of give this team an offensive spark and that's what I'm going to try and do," Kadri said. "I'm gonna try and go out there and have time of possession with the puck, use my line-mates and hopefully we can get some scoring chances going."
Despite the recent struggles, Burke said he thinks the team has the parts to pull out of the current tailspin.
"I do believe in the group, said Burke. "I'm not panicking. I've got numerous trade offers the last couple of days that make no sense. We're going to sit tight.
"When we're struggling like we're struggling, it would be pretty foolish of me to stand up here and say I'm doing a great job. That being said, I do believe in the people I've brought in, and I do believe in the people I've kept. I think this group can sort it out."
Wilson also remains confident that better days are ahead.
"We're building, and we're a better team than when I first started," said Wilson. "I'm confident of that. Our record right now has slipped a little bit but we're only a couple of points out of the playoffs with 65 games to go. So we're all working together to make this team better."