NEWARK – He faked the backhand glove-side, slid the puck back across to his forehand and tucked it neatly past the right pad of the NHL's all-time wins leader.
"Honestly, that's the only thing that was going through my head," he said almost shyly. "It was one-on-one, me and Marty Brodeur."
"This guy's a legend. I was a little bit nervous to say the least."
Nazem Kadri scored the dazzling shootout winner on Friday night as the Leafs escaped from the Prudential Center with a 4-3 win over the Devils. The 21-year-old Kadri also scored on a redirected point shot in regulation – returning to the big club on emergency recall – offering a snapshot of his offensive talents in front of new head coach Randy Carlyle.
"I knew I could come in and make an impact right away," he said afterward. "It was just a matter of doing all the small things right."
It's those "small things" that have often been the sticking point with Kadri, who claims to have dedicated himself toward becoming a more apt defensive player with the Marlies – 32 points in 42 games – while also taking better care of the puck in outnumbered situations. "Off the start, I think everyone knew about the defensive side of things," he explained on Friday morning. "I think I've polished that up definitely. And at the same time I know when to take my chances and when not to so I guess that's a little bit of maturing as a hockey player."
His third stint with the Leafs may not last long – Clarke MacArthur is considered day-to-day with an upper-body injury – but the seventh overall pick from the 2009 NHL Draft does have the opportunity to build a template for himself under Carlyle heading into next season.
Ultimately, it's his consistency in those key areas – not to mention his offensive exploits – which will determine his position moving forward at the NHL level. Recalled from the American League in late December under then-head coach Ron Wilson, Kadri was an instant hit, scoring three times in his first four games before going ice-cold with just two points over the next 12 games, eventually returned to the Marlies in late January.
The NHL grows younger by the day with an influx of ready-made talent, all of which assumes the entire lot to be prepared off the hop as well. Sometimes development – like in the case of Kadri – is about, well, developing. "It's completely normal," he told TSN.ca rather humbly before Friday's game. "Some of the best players in the league have been drafted in the first round and played a few years in the minors, not even getting any call-ups to the NHL, just kind of battling away down there. That's kind of how the old NHL was.
"Lots and lots of great players in the NHL have gone through the exact same thing I'm going through."
1. Acquired from the Wild in a minor league deal for Robbie Earl in January 2009, 26-year-old Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton made his NHL debut in Newark on Friday, logging 14:34 alongside Kadri and Mikhail Grabovski. Known for his leadership and strong work ethic in the American League, Hamilton earned a big fan in Marlies coach Dallas Eakins, who delivered the news to him on Thursday afternoon. "We actually talk quite a bit," Hamilton said, noting the captain-coach relationship, "[but] it was really honestly out of the blue." Knowing the Leafs call-up situation – they had reached the maximum of four – Hamilton didn't anticipate what was to come. "When he was calling I wasn't really expecting it so it really did kind of catch me off guard, but once it sunk in it was awesome." His wife was there with him at the time. "She kind of read my eyes and knew what happened before I could even say anything."
2. Randy Carlyle asked Eakins which players deserved to make the jump on emergency recall – Matt Frattin is also sidelined with a twisted ankle – the first name being Hamilton, the latter Kadri. Hamilton was in the midst of his seventh American League season – 23 goals, 46 points – before finally getting his first NHL opportunity. "If there ever was a player that earned it, it was him," James Reimer said of his former teammate, who also underwent a heart ablation procedure two seasons back. "He's been battling, just doing exactly what the coaches and management have wanted him to do for the last couple years. He's worked hard and put his time in and like I said, he's earned it. It wasn't given to him, he earned every little bit of it."
3. Carlyle chose to go with Kadri as his final shooter in the shootout upon the advice he received from Eakins, who also noted Hamilton's prowess in the talent portion of extra time.
4. At his best with 18 saves in a first period dominated by the Devils, Reimer made a grand total of 43 saves on the night. "He stood tall in the net for us, gave us a chance," Carlyle said of the 24-year-old's sixth consecutive start. "I just tried to play big and simple and solid," Reimer added. "Top of my crease and just tried to find the puck when I could and when not make an educated guess on where it was going and hope for the best." Reimer had allowed eight goals on 34 shots in two games prior, both losses to the Bruins and Islanders.
5. Matched up against the Devils top line of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Adam Henrique, the Leafs checking unit of Dave Steckel, Joey Crabb and Tim Connolly saw heavy ice-time in Friday's win. Steckel logged a career-high 22:51, Crabb a career-high 21:43 and Connolly 20:37. The Devils highly potent first line remained off the board for 40 minutes – despite a slew of chances – before Pete Deboer broke up the trio in the third leading to goals from Parise and Henrique.
Friday marked just the fifth win in the last 22 games for the Leafs… Tyler Bozak set a new career-high with his 16th goal of the season… Steckel snapped a 33-game drought with his eighth of the season, also finishing 18-28 (64%) in the faceoff circle… Matthew Lombardi logged a season-high 19:28, joining Bozak and Phil Kessel on the top unit… The Leafs dressed seven defencemen for the second time under Carlyle. Cody Franson joined the lineup, totaling slightly over 10 minutes… Carter Ashton saw just under six minutes of ice-time, not seeing the ice after the second period… Scoreless in the win, Grabovski has just one goal in the last nine games.