Kadri is lining up

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

On the ice, Ron Wilson puts no brakes on Nazem Kadri.

But on the Maple Leafs depth chart, it's a different story. Kadri continued his excellent training camp with an assist in his exhibition debut last night, but Wilson is weighing the long-term effects of keeping the first-round draft pick here.

"You can see sparks of greatness out there," Wilson said after Kadri supplied some excitement in a 3-2 loss to Boston. "He's not afraid, he plays chippy and tonight we found out he is a pretty strong guy. But you have to get stronger."

Kadri, at 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, started with Colton Orr and Wayne Primeau riding shotgun on his wings. But Wilson later felt confident enough to use him with fellow freshmen Viktor Stalberg and Christian Hanson, a trio that produced a power-play goal.

Unlike defenceman Luke Schenn, who was considered NHL-ready almost before getting to his first camp last year, the Leafs were making no such fuss about Kadri. They wanted to get him in some early exhibitions before a planned return to the OHL's London Knights.

That was until he excelled at the rookie tournament and then in the first few days of the main camp, prompting Wilson to start talking about him as a possible opening-night starter, albeit "a long shot."

"(But) he's got lots of guys waiting ahead of him (at centre)," Wilson said, referring to Mikhail Grabovski and Matt Stajan. "He's far enough behind them, that I can't see him playing on a third or fourth line. That would retard his growth."

Kadri plays again tonight in London in front of more of his clan and his extended junior Knights family with the Philadelphia Flyers in town.

"I wanted to get this one out of the way and now I know I can be better," Kadri said.

Meanwhile, veteran defencemen Garnet Exelby and Jeff Finger were hoping to impress Wilson for a different reason than Kadri last night, trying to get the inside track on the fifth, sixth or seventh job on the blueline.

"I try not to think about that, just go out and do the things that brought me to where I am, play physical," Exelby said prior to last night's game. "It will be nice to beat up on some players you won't probably be playing against this year (the Leafs were discouraged from fighting or roughing up each other in camp)."

But Exelby said he wouldn't hesitate to help any rookies calm themselves as they made their NHL debuts this week.

"If I see someone shaking, I'll go over and sit beside them and tell them to take a couple of deep breaths. This is the same game we've all been playing since we were young; maybe a little faster and the guys are bigger.

"For the most part, they'll find it's easier. Guys are more responsible and in position. Take that extra second for composure and you'll find you can make that easy play."

LANCE.HORNBY@SUNMEDIA.CA


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