Cherry wrong on Kadri stance

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:02 AM ET

It was Saturday night and hockey analyst Don Cherry was doing his usual schtick on Coach's Corner.

Then in a rare moment, Cherry actually completed a sentence and a thought.

He told everyone he was going to show one of the Toronto Maple Leafs' best players. The only problem was that this player wasn't playing in Toronto, but in London.

He ran a clip of Nazem Kadri's highlight-reel goal against the Plymouth Whalers Friday night.

Then he made the pronouncement that Kadri should be playing with the Maple Leafs.

Typical Cherry. Be selective in what you want to show to make your point. Make some sort of broad statement the masses can latch on to and then don't worry about proving your point.

Cherry picked a game in which Kadri and the Knights played well. He didn't pick the Thursday game in Windsor when Kadri and his mates were not very good, a game in which Kadri took a lazy penalty and gave the puck away at least twice in positions that almost cost his team.

We aren't using Kadri as a scapegoat. Every junior hockey player has his good and bad games. Kadri has by far more good games than bad.

It's all timing and readiness to make the jump to another level.

The Leafs were right to send Kadri back, because he wasn't ready.

But since Cherry chose to make himself the expert on whether Kadri should be playing in the NHL or not, he's placed the young man squarely at centre stage.

Since Toronto is the centre of the hockey universe and Cherry often lets the word "we" slip when referring to Toronto, anything to do with Kadri becomes big news.

Let's be clear about one thing. Kadri is going to play in the National Hockey League and he'll be successful. He has the personality, the skill, he's a really pleasant kid to deal with and he has all the accoutrements needed to handle the pressure and attention in the NHL. You can't help but like him.

Of that there is no debate.

The more he gets a chance to develop those skills, the better chance he has of being successful.

There's no doubt Kadri would love to be in the NHL right now and there's no doubt he wouldn't be the worst player on the Maple Leafs.

It isn't the first time Cherry has said Kadri should be in the NHL and every time Kadri hears it, it probably makes him feel a longing for the big league. But is that honestly enough to take an 18-year-old and throw him in the garbage dump that's the Maple Leafs?

He'd play 12 minutes a game on a team that will struggle to make the playoffs. He'll get run at by a bunch of guys trying to make a name for themselves and as an 18-year will have to carry the weight of expectations by a Leaf nation ravenous for something, anything, to cheer about.

One of the biggest issues most junior hockey operators have when a player is sent back after coming close to making a pro team is dealing with the disappointment and letdown.

Kadri felt that letdown, but he has a good head on his shoulder.

He was watching Saturday night when Cherry put him on the national stage again.

'I'm not paying him to do that, that's for sure," Kadri laughed. "It's very respectful of him. He speaks highly of me and I really appreciate that. A lot of people respect his opinion and for him to go out on a limb on national TV and say I should be there really says something about him."

Kadri has said from the moment he returned to the Knights, that while disappointed, he's focused on playing in the OHL even though the debate on whether he should be back in Toronto continues, most often sparked by Cherry.

"I think I'm over it," Kadri said. "Definitely, when I see the Leafs struggling, I think I could be out there helping them out a little bit . . . Their choice was to send me back and I support that."

Meanwhile, the Knights don't need anyone to keep reminding Kadri how close he came to making the team. They've already lost a bunch of underage players to the NHL.

"It's a great compliment to Naz," said Knights general manager Mark Hunter. "We all know Naz is a great player, but we don't want to say any more because we don't want him to get too big of a head.

"Naz knows how good a player I think he is. Naz is here now and we need him to play."

Before the season is done, Kadri will be playing at least 30 minutes a game. He'll play on special teams, play another year of all-star games and probably be part of a long playoff run. Kadri's a favourite to make Canada's national junior team.

He will have a year of getting bigger, stronger and learning how to play. He'll be playing as much hockey as he can handle.

That's how you build a future.

morris.dallacosta@sunmedia.ca


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