Kadri's chances next season look good

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

KINGSTON -- It was Nazem Kadri's way of sucking up to the boss.

Only this version didn't involve any puckering.

With Maple Leafs head honcho Brian Burke at London's John Labatt Centre last Friday, Kadri strutted his stuff for the Toronto GM, registering a goal and two assists for the host Knights.

"A nice goal, too," Kadri points out.

Sure, the effort came in a 7-3 loss to the visiting Windsor Spitfires. But at least Kadri had shown Burke that he was starting to grow up both on the ice and off.

"He told me what it takes to be a successful NHL player," Kadri recalls. "He talked about me working on my strength, my shot, things like that."

Had the London native been the first-rounder of, say, Nashville, few would have noticed if Predators GM David Poile had been in the stands watching him.

PLUCKED NO. 7

Instead, he was plucked seventh overall in the 2009 entry draft by Burke, a figure who seems to draw attention wherever he goes.

And that includes a Friday night visit to a Knights game.

"To have Burkie come see me personally means a lot," Kadri says. "He's done it a couple of times. It shows how much (the Leafs) are interested in my development."

At the time of Burke's visit, Kadri had no idea the GM was working on a couple of major deals that, less than 48 hours later, would change the face of the Leafs franchise.

A new face that team officials hope will include Kadri in 2010-11.

By trading away forwards Matt Stajan, Jason Blake, Nik Hagman and Jamal Mayers as part of the deals that brought Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom and prospect Keith Aulie to Toronto on Sunday, Burke opened the door for Kadri to have a better opportunity to make the Leafs next season.

There is little doubt the Leafs are thin up front and, potentially, getting thinner, with forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky and Lee Stempniak among the candidates to be shipped out over the next few weeks.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Leafs won't target forwards in the coming months. Far from it. Whether it be via trade, free agency and/or the draft, count on the Leafs attempting to bolster themselves up front.

Including giving Kadri a chance.

"Given his development, maturity and competitiveness, I feel safe to say at this point there is an expectation throughout the organization for Kadri to make the team next season," Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes says.

When informed of Hughes' comments, Kadri smiles. He has just completed practice at Kingston's K-Rock Centre for Wednesday's OHL all-star game, and hearing such praise has just made a bland February day just a bit brighter.

Kadri admits being sent back to junior after an impressive NHL training camp last September was a bitter pill to swallow, causing him to get off to a slow start with the Knights.

That's ancient history, however. His 63 points in 39 games now puts him among the elite OHL scorers.

SWEATING IT OUT

Off the ice, Kadri, 19, is pouring sweat in the weight room to muscle up. Just as the boss suggested.

"I can feel myself getting stronger," he says. "And I'll keep doing what I have to to get up there next season.

"To be honest, I think I'm much more mature than I was when I first got drafted. On the ice. With the media. With the fans."

Kadri knows the lofty expectations that go with being a Leafs first-rounder. The spotlight is always on you.

Sure enough, at the beginning of Sportsnet's coverage of the OHL all-star game Wednesday, it is Kadri who is interviewed on the ice prior to the opening faceoff.

Once the puck drops, Kadri doesn't disappoint. It takes him just 12:26 to score the Western Conference's first goal, sparking a three-point night in a 17-10 victory by the East.

Eight months from now, the stage has been set for Kadri to showcase those same impressive offensive skills at the NHL level. Thanks in part to Trader Burke's wheeling and dealing, of course.

MIKE.ZEISBERGER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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