Toronto, Canada - Nothing says pressure like holding the weight of a Stanley Cup-starved city on your shoulders.
But regardless of how you look at it - fortunately or unfortunately - that is the reality for Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.
The 19-year-old London native will be given every opportunity this summer to shed his penciled-in status on coach Ron Wilson’s roster in exchange for a permanent position on the blue and white.
To do so, Kadri will not only have to bulk up - despite already adding 15 pounds of muscle this offseason - and improve his defensive play, he will need to grow a thick skin in order to survive in this hockey-crazed market.
And it certainly won’t be an easy thing to do after the Boston Bruins nabbed highly touted prospect Tyler Seguin with Toronto’s second overall pick in this year’s draft, leaving Kadri as the young messiah in a devout hockey Mecca.
Luke Schenn, the Leafs’ fifth overall pick in 2008, once wore this crown, but the expectations of a sturdy stay-at-home defender are modest in comparison to a dynamic offensive juggernaut.
While it might be early to group Kadri under the “dynamic offensive juggernaut” umbrella, his performance up-to-date has certainly warranted heightened expectations.
After nearly cracking the Leafs’ roster out of training camp a season ago, Kadri returned to his junior team, the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights, and lit the league on fire.
He finished tied for fourth in scoring with 93 points in 56 games, while racking up another 27 in 12 playoff games and earning a spot on Canada’s World Junior team.
The silky-smooth forward also brings along a strong pedigree, having been pumped out of Dale Hunter’s hockey machine in London.
Hunter breeds professionalism, respect and responsibility - all culminating factors that have helped transform Kadri from a skill player into a complete player.
Just take a look at the likes of Corey Perry and Dave Bolland, two flashy forwards in London who parlayed the hard-knock lessons of Hunter into NHL success and Stanley Cup rings.
That’s not to say Kadri will follow the fate of the two former Knights, but it does speak volumes to the type of player that Kadri can become: an in your face, pain-in-the-you-know-what, point-producing competitor.
Toronto general manager Brian Burke recently said to the National Post that Kadri could potentially be to the Leafs what Matt Duchene was to the Colorado Avalanche last season.
While that would be ideal, it would not be surprising to see him start the season with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League.
Burke gave the same treatment to Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan in Anaheim and assigned Tyler Bozak for AHL duty last year despite his impressive audition at training camp.
The bottom line is that Kadri will have to earn a spot and prove that he can be a consistent contributor on a club in dire need of a significant resurgence.
If all goes to plan, Kadri will be celebrating his 20th birthday on the eve of the kickoff to the 2011 campaign as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Suiting up against the rival Montreal Canadiens - his favorite team growing up - on opening night would be icing on the cake.