Kadri's dream on thin ice

Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri gets taken down by Senators forward Matt Carkner at the Air Canada...

Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri gets taken down by Senators forward Matt Carkner at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on September 21, 2010. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:32 PM ET

The Maple Leafs thought they had things worked out with Nazem Kadri.

They thought they had curbed the attitude and bulked up his body.

No one was guaranteeing big things for the 2009 first-round pick, but those in the organization were quietly confident he might make the jump to the NHL this fall.

Instead, the highly touted 19-year-old rookie's hopes to start the season as a Leaf are on desperately thin ice.

Kadri survived the latest round of cuts, which claimed 17 on Sunday. But from coach Ron Wilson, to middle management, to the big boss himself, Kadri is living on borrowed time.

General manager Brian Burke was blunt on Sunday, echoing what has been clear to those who have watched the rookie in three pre-season games thus far.

"He not anywhere near to the level we had hoped for and expected," Burke said on a conference call. "I don't know why that is, but he's running out of time.

"His comments indicate he thinks he's got a lot more time. But he's running out of time here."

Burke took it a step further by suggesting that Kadri has played his way off of the Leafs lineup and into the AHL.

"If he doesn't make our team, which right now it's looking like he's not going to, then he will start with the Marlies," Burke said. "We'll meet organizationally on that and I may get overruled, but I doubt it."

The Leafs are down to 30 bodies in camp, including 17 forwards. Of the 12 forward jobs for opening night, you can argue 10 are already spoken for including eight on the wing.

With Tyler Bozak and Mikhail Grabovski securing the top two centre spots, that leaves Kadri, John Mitchell, Christian Hanson and Tim Brent to battle for the other two positions up the middle.

Four pre-season games remain and, Kadri could still reverse his fortune. But he may need to do something special to avoid a demotion.

Privately, Leafs brass has been concerned with the former London Knight's defensive struggles and the fact that he hasn't made an impact here.

Wilson has given him every opportunity to succeed -- starting the first two games between veteran NHL wingers Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg -- yet Kadri was unable to score a single point.

Publicly, both Wilson and Burke haven't been shy about trying to light a fire under Kadri.

"This is not uncommon with a young player," Burke said. "There's a lot of hype, a lot of pressure on a nearly hometown kid. We have not lost faith in Nazem Kadri, but his play right now indicates he is not ready to contribute at that level."

If there is consolation for Kadri, it is that he is not alone as a training camp disappointment. While a couple of players -- notably Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi -- have stepped up, Burke says he's concerned others are letting opportunities get away.

"Guys are standing at the bus stop waiting for the bus," Burke said. "If they can't figure it out by the process of elimination, they are not paying attention."

It is easy to say that there has been too much scrutiny on Kadri the past 10 days, but it goes with the territory. He is, after all, a first-round pick and possibly the only one the team will have over a three-year span.

It also doesn't help that there's a good chance the six players selected before Kadri all will be in NHL lineups to start the season. Or the fact that the Leafs are desperately thin at centre.

No need feeling sorry for Kadri, either, as he had a shot at having it all. Whether it is over the next week at Leafs camp or the next month as a Marlie, we'll see what he does with his second chance.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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