For Nazem Kadri, the 2011-2012 NHL pre-season means a little bit more than most of his Toronto Maple Leaf teammates.
The third-year forward is looking to crack the Leafs’ roster for the start of the regular season after failing to do so the two previous campaigns.
The London, Ont. native used his summer vacation to trim down and add some lean muscle. The work has appeared to pay off after the Leafs’ 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators in the first pre-season matchup Monday night at the Air Canada Centre.
After the final whistle, Kadri’s name wasn’t on the score sheet but during his 12:23 of playing time, the youngster was on the ice for three of the team’s four goals, showing signs that he belonged.
Leafs President and General Manager Brian Burke has pointed out on the team’s website that the only job open for competition is the third-line left wing spot. Kadri faces competition from Joe Colborne and Matt Frattin and all three were suited up for the Buds.
Kadri is down to 185 pounds and part of his training was to watch film of himself and address the issues he saw in his game. As he told the team’s website, his main area of improvement was his first two or three steps in order to get separation from defencemen.
Kadri’s maturation and dedication to improve have contributed to his newfound determination, while also realizing nothing will be handed to him.
“I want to be a regular 82-plus playoffs game player in the NHL,” he told the National Post Friday as training camp opened. “In order for me to do that, I have to establish myself and prove myself and that’s why I worked so hard this summer.
“Now I’m here ready to prove I can stay.”
More time needed
Kadri spent the majority of his first two seasons with the Toronto Marlies, but has shown flashes that he can be a full-time contributor with the big club.
Last season, he was called up by the Leafs for 17 games in November and December. During that time he played on the top line but ended up with zero points by the time he was sent back down.
However, in his last stint toward the end of the season — playing on the third line with a little less pressure — Kadri recorded three goals and three assists in 12 games.
Coach Ron Wilson is confident in the Leafs’ 2009 seventh overall pick, noting that it will take time for him to completely make the transition to the NHL.
“This is a process he is going through and you can’t rush it,” Wilson told the National Post in an interview. “I hate to use this, but when you’re baking a cake, sometimes you just have to wait until the cake is finished in the oven, rather than rush it. Or a soufflé. If you keep opening the door, it collapses.
“We’ve got to be patient with [Nazem] and everyone does. He’s going to be a very good hockey player. We just have to develop him at his own pace. We can’t rush this.”
Kadri started his campaign to become a permanent fixture with the squad on Monday night in Toronto, making an immediate impact against Ottawa on a line with Colby Armstrong and Tyler Bozak.
First, he nearly assisted a goal in the early minutes, feeding a pass across the crease that was nearly chipped in. He later found himself in the right place and appeared to score the opening goal. However, it was determined that Armstrong knocked the puck into the back of the net.
In the post-game press conference, Wilson commented about Kadri’s comfort level with his linemates.
“[He] looks comfortable with those guys,” Wilson told reporters. “He adds a lot of offense [to that line].”
The first test in Kadri’s journey to don the blue and white this year was successful and the young forward certainly believes in lucky No. 3.
“I know I can be an NHL player,” the confident Kadri said to the National Post. “I know I can contribute at that level. It’s just a matter of time. When? Like I said, I put a lot of work in this summer and it’s going to pay off.”