Of boys and men

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Nazem Kadri has the skills of a man and the body of a boy.

So, just imagine, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said yesterday, if the organization had opted to keep Kadri at the NHL level. What if some bruising veteran had wallpapered the Leafs' first-round pick from this past June?

Would it be any different from the scenario in which Erie's Michael Liambas, 20, crushed the Kitchener Rangers' Ben Fanelli, 16, earning a season-long suspension from the Ontario Hockey League?

From the standpoint of men playing with boys, Wilson says no.

Make no mistake. Wilson is not commenting on the incident itself, one that left Fanelli with a fractured skull and broken orbital bone.

But in response to the horrific hit, there has been a debate over whether the OHL should allow 20-year-olds, with much more mature physiques, to compete against 16-year-olds who are still growing.

In Wilson's mind, the same scenario plays out in the NHL, especially since recently drafted 18-year-old rookies are being rushed into action these days.

"You can have the same thing happen in the NHL," Wilson explained. "For example, if we had Kadri up here like everybody suggests and a 35-year-old guy who is 260 pounds lines him up, whose fault is that? That's why you don't, from our point of view, put a guy at risk."

REASONING

Indeed, the Leafs' reasoning for sending Kadri back to the London Knights at the start of the season: His body still needed to develop.

"In junior hockey, how many games have they played? And there's been lots of 16-year-old kids playing against 20, 21-year-olds. I hate to say it like it's part of the game, but sometimes injuries happen.

"If a guy can shoot a puck 100 m.p.h., 10 m.p.h. faster or harder than anyone else shoots, do you ban that guy from playing in your league because he shoots harder? Or a pitcher because he throws harder?"

Leafs forward Wayne Primeau, who saw the NHL career of his brother Keith end because of concussion problems, said there must be improvement in hockey headgear to avoid injuries such as those suffered by Fanelli.

"When you see the helmets worn in football and how few head injuries there are, then look at the hockey version, improvements definitely need to be made," Primeau said.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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