The most grizzled postseason veteran in the London Knights-Guelph Storm first-round series?
Knights forward Nazem Kadri.
The Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder has already played in 43 OHL playoff games -- plus four Memorial Cup contests -- ahead of captain Justin Taylor's 35 and defenceman Steve Tarasuk's 27.
He'll add to that impressive total Friday in Game 1 against the Storm at the John Labatt Centre.
He also understands what the second season is all about.
"I know what's expected," the 19-year-old Londoner and Knights' leading scorer said. "This is the last playoffs for me, for him (Tarasuk), for a lot of guys. You want to make sure it lasts. Our team flew under the radar all season, but we all knew, sooner or later, we would have to come up."
To see, and be seen, on the biggest stage. Rogers Sportsnet will air the opening game at 7 p.m.
For his previous three playoff runs, Kadri had been given the less stressful test of providing secondary scoring.
Last year, he racked up nine goals and 21 points -- often on a line with Daniel Erlich and lost-to-injury Phil Varone -- in 14 games. But all eyes were on the Knights' blockbuster trade deadline acquisition of John Tavares, who had 10 goals and 21 points.
Kadri learned from watching the attention Tavares, who scored a lot more at home than on the road early on, drew during the postseason. The Knights split the pair up to spread out the scoring.
"Last change is important and you'll get some good matchups when you're at home a lot of the time," Kadri said, "but you can't just depend on that. You have to do it in different situations, on the road, when you're being checked closely. I know I have to try to use my speed out there. I can't complain about my ice time. I have to make the most of my opportunities. That's what it's about."
In 2008 with Kitchener, Kadri scored nine goals and 26 points for the OHL champion and Cup runner-up Rangers. But again, his line rode shotgun to the team's top unit -- Canadian Hockey League leading scorer Justin Azevedo of West Lorne, Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling.
This time, he's the main man. He has been skating with Taylor, the gritty team leader, and speedy Stephen Sanza on an all-London hometown line, but that could change two shifts into Game 1.
Head coach Dale Hunter has always been a master shuffler.And now, Jacques Beaulieu's been doing it on the back end.
He's mixing and matching the blue-line pairings, but expect Tarasuk, Michael D'Orazio, Matt Ashman and rookie Scott Harrington to get healthy doses of the Storm's top two lines, featuring the Peter Holland-Michael Latta combo and the Taylor Beck-Matt Sisca duo.
"They also form a very good No. 1 power play with those four and (defender) Sam Lofquist," Beaulieu said. "It's dangerous. We're going to pressure but we'll be smart about it. In the playoffs, the formula is always if you're 80% on the penalty kill, 20% on the power play and your goalie stops nine out of 10 shots, then you should win some games."
And like Kadri, Tarasuk is going to play a big part. He's been one of the most mobile defenders in the league and he's ready for his increased responsibilities.
"The coaches are in charge of minutes and as players, you just want to be out there in important situations," Tarasuk said. "I'm ready for it (25-plus minutes a game). I didn't get that opportunity last year (with Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson on board) but now's the chance.
"I'm not going to change what's been successful this year. I'm still going to jump up in the play when the opportunity's right."
He's not worried about wearing down late in games.
"As an undersized D, you always hear the same thing, but absolutely, it's a chance to prove myself. You have to hit these guys. You can't let them get the puck in a good position."
Ryan Pyette is a Free Press sports reporter.
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