Kadri will do anything to make junior squad

Ryan Pyette, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 9:50 AM ET

Nazem Kadri leaves for the Canadian world junior selection camp in Regina Saturday morning.

He will do anything to make the team.

Even if it means committing a personal cardinal sin — dumping in the puck.

“I’ve never really been a big fan of dumping the puck,” the London Knights forward and Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder said, “especially on the power play. But if that’s what I’m asked to do, that’s what I’ll do.

“I know I have to keep it simple.”

That’s never easy for a player so full of flair, a daring puck handler who specializes in high degrees of difficulty.

The truly talented stickmen trample all over the fine line between highlight reel goal and costly turnover.

Most skaters see a wall of defenders in front of them and opt for “the safe play.”

From his youngest minor hockey days in London, Kadri saw that barrier and thought, “I can deke them all.”

“Sometimes, it creeps in,” Kadri, 19, said with a grin. “I know that when it’s just me and there are three guys there, I’m not supposed to try to go around them.”

He knows it, but it’s tempting.

His toe drag is mesmerizing.

This past Sunday, he hypnotized big Swedish goalie Robin Lehner, the six-foot-four, 224-pound Ottawa Senators prospect with the Soo Greyhounds, by putting the bait out, then rifling the puck up high over him in one motion.

“I’ve worked on the toe drag since my draft year,” he said, “but ever since I was a kid, I always did those little drills with my hands and wrists to try to get better at it.”

And every year during the holiday season, he and dad Sam watched the world junior tournament from beginning to end.

He saw all those clutch goals.

He celebrated when, two years ago, his old Kitchener Rangers teammate Matt Halischuk bagged the tournament winner.

“You see Hally become the Canadian sweetheart for a while after scoring that goal and I thought it was great because he deserved it,” Kadri said. “Of course, you think about getting one of those big goals but my only focus right now is to make the team. You’re playing with the best players in Canada and it’s a great opportunity. There’s the camp and exhibition games to get through first and I have to show well.

“I was invited for a reason.”

Kadri was cut last year from the team that won a fifth straight gold in Ottawa under Pat Quinn. He suffered a broken jaw a few weeks before the selection camp.

“Hopefully, the second time is the charm,” he said. “I obviously learned a lot from going last time. I’m ready to go and I’m excited about it.”

In Saskatchewan, he will be intent on proving to Hockey Canada and world junior head coach Willie Desjardins they can count on him.

Trusted to make the proper decision at the right moment. Reliable enough to play a two-way game.

A standout at his first Leafs camp, Kadri was told to beef up his physical play.

“I’m trying to show I can be an energy guy,” he said, “but I’ve been caught a few times.”

He already has a career-high 62 penalty minutes in 27 games. Last Saturday, he irritated the Saginaw Spirit to the point where they ended up losing four players to 22 games worth of suspensions.

Kadri didn’t score as much as expected after returning to London.

But he has 17 points in his past eight games. At times, he has taken over on the ice.

“He’s really worked on his shot lately,” Knights teammate and United States world junior hopeful Phil McRae said, “and it’s helped because he’s been filling the net. He can do so many things with the puck. (Linemate) Jared Knight and I always laugh about it. Just get the puck to Naz and he’ll do something good with it.”

Often, it’ll be magical.

But if Canada needs him to dump-and-chase at the world juniors, he promises to grit his teeth and do that, too.


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