NEW YORK – Make no mistake. Randy Carlyle is not comparing Nazem Kadri
to Bobby Ryan
, the Ducks four-time 30-goal man, but his goal for both players remains the same.
"The situation is no different," Carlyle said on Saturday morning, prior to a punishing 5-2 loss to the Rangers. "We believed that Bobby Ryan
could play in the NHL, it was a matter of when. And in our minds, he could be a 10 or 15 year pro. We didn't want him to be a 3 or 4 year pro. And that's the same thing with Nazem Kadri
Of the 30 first round picks in the 2009 draft, 22 have played at least 20 games in the NHL, nine have logged 100 or more and five have totaled 200-plus. Quite simply, after three years of predictable stops and starts in the organization, now is the time for Nazem Kadri
(56 games) to cement his future in Toronto.
The 22-year-old is off to a strong start. The Leafs unlikely leading scorer with three goals and five points through the first five games this season, Kadri had registered at least a point in four straight before coming up empty in New York on Saturday.
"I think with Nazzie there's been lots of attention paid to his development, lack of it, all of the issues that any young player goes through, but when you're a profile player in a profile market then there's a lot more pressure on him," Carlyle explained. "What we've tried to [tell him] is just stay grounded, just do what you do and do what you do best, you don't have to do anything spectacular out there, you've just got to go out and be yourself."
So far, he's done just that.
In the season opener against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, Kadri wheeled through the slot and into the left circle before beating Carey Price
with the first marker in a 2-1 Leafs win. Two nights later, he tallied the lone goal in a loss to the Sabres, adding three more points in the next two games.
His wizardry with the puck was never in question though. It was always the details and decision-making of the London, Ontario kid that left the organization shaking its collective head.
Like any inexperienced, young prospect, that education is ongoing. Just before he notched his third goal of the year against the Islanders on Thursday, Kadri looked to dance around a few defenders at the offensive blueline and turned the puck over. Minutes later, a drop pass behind the Leafs goal landed in enemy hands. "In the NHL you can't continually make high-risk plays in certain areas of the ice," Carlyle said, noting one too many drop passes from Kadri. "But he's limited those and it's a credit to him."
And also a credit to Dallas Eakins
and the Marlies coaching staff, a point Carlyle was quick to emphasize. "I'm getting the luxury of having what Dallas has developed," he said. "The things that he was doing in the American Hockey League proved to us that he could play in the NHL, but there are things that were keeping him away in our minds that was going to cost or [had the chance] of costing the hockey club at this level. He's been able to recognize some of those things and again it goes back to the Marlies coaching staff. They're the ones that have developed him and we're basically the benefactor of that."
Eakins was diligent with Kadri, pushing, prodding and demanding more. Every effort was made to ensure Kadri not just take the next step, but succeed when he was ready for such a progression. Now the task falls to Carlyle. Ron Wilson, his predecessor, often grew impatient when the offence dried up and lacking details in Kadri's game became apparent. How Carlyle responds to those inevitable foibles will help determine the course ahead. Communication – never Wilson's strong suit – will certainly aid in that process and has been evident with Carlyle thus far.
While Kadri's current scoring pace is certainly not to be expected, he is challenged nonetheless to maintain production in some form. The buzz word for any young player, consistency is always the steepest hill to climb. "It's tough," Tyler Bozak
, now in his fourth NHL season, conceded of the process. "I think confidence is a huge thing and I don't think Naz really lacks a lot of that which is good. He handles himself well and he's confident which I think is a huge thing for just getting going, staying on the right track."
Kadri has had brief offensive outbursts like the current one before. Late last January, during his second call-up of the season, he raced out with four points in his first six games under Wilson. Over the next 10 games, however, he totaled a single point and was soon sent back down. "A lot of that comes down to being mentally tough and being prepared night after night," Dion Phaneuf
said of the consistency factor, "whether some nights you're feeling a little bit under the weather or something's up, you've got to play your game and do your job."
With what figures to be his first extended look in the NHL, it's on Kadri to do just that.
""I think you've seen from Naz over the last couple years; he's really matured on and off the ice, he's gotten stronger, he's built muscle and he's becoming more of a man," Phaneuf noted. "He's definitely taken some real big steps in becoming a full-time NHL player."