LONDON, Ont. -- In less than a week, Nazem Kadri has gone from the hot story of Maple Leafs training camp to its most burning question.
Even with coach Ron Wilson openly calling him out again on Thursday, Kadri failed to make a mark, this time at his hometown rink, the John Labatt Centre, where he was a star with the London Knights the past two seasons.
The result of the continued flat play was a third-period demotion off the line he has skated with all camp thus far -- prized off-season acquisitions Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg -- to what looked like an all-Marlies unit between wingers Marcel Mueller and Darryl Boyce.
With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell all in the fight for centre spots, Kadri has been less effective than all of hem.
"He needs to realize the battle he's in," Wilson said after the Leafs' 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
"We're not giving him the job. He has to outperform at least two or three of those four to earn a spot."
Kadri, the Leafs' first-round pick from 2009, gained a measure of redemption with a shootout goal to kick off a thrilling extra session eventually won by the Armstrong, the Leafs' 11th shooter.
The Kadri Quandary
So what gives with the player that looked so offensively gifted a year ago? No fire. No flash. No fury ... Kadri is clearly playing tentatively, which stifles his offensive skill. Case in point: On a first-period two-on-one, rather than taking a clear open shot, Kadri dished off to Versteeg with a telegraph pass that was far too late ... Wilson has no choice but to look at options now. Versteeg has been flying in both of his pre-season games and can no longer be held back. Armstrong, meanwhile, is as advertised -- a guy who will go in the corner and get the puck and needs to have a useful centre. To that end, changes are coming, starting with Friday's return match with the Flyers. For one game anyway, Versteeg is likely to move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin shifts to a unit with Mikhail Grabovsky and Clarke MacArthur ... For most of the third period, Tim Brent replaced Kadri between Armstrong and Versteeg ... Big night for Armstrong -- he scored in regulation on a deflection and the shootout winner on a slapshot in tight on Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. "I've been fine-tuning that one in the beer league's back home," Armstrong quipped. "It had to be done. I think the refs had to get to a game in Montreal." ... Wilson on Kadri's better play in the third: "Maybe when I didn't have him on (that line), it lit a fire under his rear end and he realized I'm serious and I'm not going to wait for him to get going." ... Naz on Naz: "By all means I haven't made the team yet. I'm not expecting anyone to just give me the silver spoon and just hand me a job."
The Leafs were short-handed on defence when Brett Lebda and Matt Lashoff suffered shoulder injuries early in the game. Both players will be re-evaluated Friday ... Two pre-season games and two scraps for Hanson, who is living up to the Slap Shot family pedigree. This one was short and sweet, but we'll give him the decision over Flyer Marc-Andre Bourdon ... It seems to be a more static Jonas Gustavsson in his second season in the Leafs net. The Monster, who played the first half of Thursday's game, seems to have quieted his feet and doesn't move around his crease as much as he did as a rookie and has better rebound control. Gustavsson's steadiness showed when stopping the Flyers' Scott Hartnell on a breakaway .... Raw Leafs rookie Marcel Mueller looks skilled enough to be an NHL player some day, but his hockey sense seems at the elementary level ... James Reimer replaced the Monster and provided a sharp effort. Reimer made a nice stop on Flyer James van Riemsdyk on a penalty shot and then was outstanding in the shootout. "Hopefully it's a stepping stone and I impressed some people with it," Reimer said ... Biggest ovation of the night was for Darryl Sittler, who was honoured at the pre-game ceremony. Appropriate given that Sittler was a Leaf, Flyer and a London Knight ... If Leafs GM Brian Burke liked one thing last night, it was probably when defenceman Luke Schenn filled in annoying Flyer Zac Rinaldo who spent much of the night running and chirping at assorted Leafs ... Ancient Bill Guerin (OK, he'll be 40 this fall), in Flyers camp on a tryout, got plenty of ice time and the Flyers' second goal, which looked to bounce in off Hanson.