Kadri targets new mission

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

Nazem Kadri arrived back at London Knights practice with a blue Maple Leafs hockey bag slung over his shoulder.

"Haven't got my Knights' one yet," he said with a grin.

The Leafs gave him his helmet and gloves, too. But those are tucked away until next year.

No way he'd act the blue-clad big leaguer around his Knights mates.

"Completely different team," he said.

And completely different lifestyle, too.

No more of the NHL's catered grub, travel in style and four-star hotels.

Now, it's home-cooked meals, riding the bus for OHL games and back in his own bed.

"I had played something like 14 days in 21 days (at Leafs training camp and exhibition season)," he said. "When I got back home, I just laid on the couch, watched a little TV, didn't do too much."

Recharged, he's ready to start his new Knights mission.

After his Leafs turn, he knows he'll be the centre of attention.

It looks like, according to London head coach Dale Hunter, he'll get to play the position best suited to his considerable talents -- in the middle.

Last season, he got shifted to the wall at times after John Tavares came to London.

"I'm naturally a centre, but I played all three forward positions -- sometimes in the same game -- last year and I'll go wherever Dale wants me. I think it helped me to play all three. "With the Leafs, I played mostly centre and some wing."

And there might even be more in store.

"Maybe the point on the power play sometimes," Dale Hunter said. "Forwards don't generally see the ice as much as defencemen, but he can play in a lot of situations. He's not someone we have to worry about."

Yesterday, he skated on a line with the two Phils -- Varone and McRae.

"Having Naz back, of course we were rooting for him to make the NHL, but he's such a good guy, everyone's happy he's here," Varone said. "And it gives us some more options with our lines than we had before."

Kadri had a lot of preseason highlights with the Leafs. But the best one isn't in dispute.

"Scoring my first goal here (at the John Labatt Centre against the Flyers)," he said. "It gave me extra confidence and I think I carried it forward.

"The guys were all great. The young guys, (Luke) Schenn, (Viktor) Stalberg, (Tyler) Bozak, we were all in the same boat so we had that in common."

Kadri was sent home with an eye at chasing the usual junior dreams: 100-point season, world junior gold, Memorial Cup berth. He has his own laundry list of wishes for his fourth OHL season and second in London.

"No turnovers," he said, "and I'm going to share the puck. I'll shoot it when I have the chance but I want to move it around, too. I was given a chance to be creative (with Toronto), and obviously here, there's a little more opportunity to freelance out there.

"I know we have a good team here and I'm looking forward to it."

Clearly, he's a leader on the club.

But will he be the leader? The Knights still haven't committed to their captains and alternates.

"We'll think about it more this week," Dale Hunter said.

The Knights feel there's plenty to ponder after surrendering seven goals in Plymouth last Saturday. They head to Sarnia tomorrow night.

Top defenceman Michael Del Zotto can't help out at the moment. He has cracked the New York Rangers' roster and will start the season in the Big Apple.

So he remains a Knights' question mark for the time being.

"He played well for the Rangers in the exhibitions, we knew John Carlson (now in Washington's system with Hershey) was a longshot all along and we're waiting to find out about Anton Klementyev (with the Islanders' farm club in Bridgeport)," GM Mark Hunter said.


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