Young Kadri's uphill battle

JOE WARMINGTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:34 AM ET

What do Rob Pearson, Steve Bancroft, Brandon Convery, Jeff Ware, Luca Cereda, Brad Boyes, Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Steen and Jiri Tlusty have in common?

As first round draft picks they flamed out with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Will Nazem Kadri soon join their club?

Are we witnessing the in-progress ruining of yet another young the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect?

Or is the bizarre handling of 19-year-old, 2009 first round draft pick exactly the right way to transform him from the OHL to the NHL?

It's the number one conversation in Leafs Nation--from The FAN 590 to LeafsTalk on AM 640 with Andy Frost, SUNT V's The Grill Room to the Foster Hewitt Gondola to the set of the CBC's Battle of the Blades at Pinewood Studios.

"I don't think he's played up to the way he did last season," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said in one interview. "He showed me he turns the puck over a lot and he has got to get over that. He showed me that I don't know how sharp his skates are because he can't stop when there's a turnover. He goes for a big skate. There's a lot of little junior things that we have to get out of his game."

Then in Monday's Rob Longley column, Leafs GM Brian Burke jumped in: "He's not played anywhere near to what we had hoped for or expected. I don't know why that is. And he's running out of time."

So the kid is 19 and he's already running out of time?

Is this supposed to help his confidence? Is this how you develop and nurture your team's future hopes? It seems like a lot of people in this town are piling on this kid.

Kadri is a highly skilled player -- a playmaker with a smart mind and impressive creativity. It's hard to coach because those kind of players often need to be in the moment to dazzle you. Many coaches could never do these things as players themselves but a smart one doesn't get in the way of it.

Hopefully they don't coach all of the Nazem out of Nazem because when you watch him, it's like he has a chalkboard in his head and doesn't know who he is anymore.

Is that his fault. Or their fault?

And what do Burke and Wilson want this kid to be? A checker, a mucker? Or do the Leafs need a guy who might be able to light up the net?

Thanks to the 20 pounds they made him put on, it looks to me like the process has begun to turn an offensive talent who scored 93 points in the OHL into a run of the mill defensive guy who doesn't have a big head and is humble.

But from the set of Battle of Blades, Theoren Fleury said Burke and Wilson know exactly what they are doing. "It's tough love," the NHL legend said. "If you are a Leafs first-rounder there is a heavy burden to carry. You have to have a thick skin."

Fellow contestant and former Leafs first rounder Russ Courtnall knows exactly how Kadri feels and recommends "as a young kid you have got to remember how you got into the position where you are and you have to have amazing confidence in yourself."

Saying "I feel bad for Nazem of late," former Leaf Todd Warriner added the key is to be patient and try not to get discouraged.

Leafs fans sure hope Todd's right.

But the whole Kadri approach has me thinking the fix is in that they don't want this kid to make this team -- even though they have no one better to replace him.

"Joe, there is no harm in having him start with the Marlies," explains Rob Del Mundo of TMLfans.ca. "Players like Jason Spezza, Eric Staal and Patrice Bergeron all benefited from playing in the AHL."

So why don't they just do that without humiliating the kid? It was, after all, management who talking about Kadri being "pencilled" into the lineup, creating the pressure in the first place.

Has Kadri really had a fair chance? He has only played one NHL game and nine in the pre-season, where he has scored some highlight reel goals, including a big one in a shootout last week.

Shootouts are important. Last season the Leafs were 4-4 in shootouts. If they want to make the playoffs they could use to win some of those.

Instead of messing with the young man's head any further, I'd rather them give Kadri a ten game stint without him having to hear how immature he is, how light he is, how many mistakes he makes and how he needs to grow up and see how he does.

He might just show he can do what very few people in the Leafs organization can do. Score points.

This team was 29th last season and this is the same management who had Rickard Wallin in the lineup for 60 games to score two goals. Of course, it was two more goals than a whole bunch of Maple Leafs first-round draft picks ever scored.

Hopefully Wallin won't end up with more career goals than young Nazem Kadri.


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