Hunter has faith in Kadri

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - No one knows Nazem Kadri's character and ability better than Dale Hunter.

"Nazem was our best player and he's a good kid," the London Knights head coach said Tuesday after a Toronto tidal wave of criticism continues to crash down on the Maple Leafs first-rounder during his second NHL training camp. "When he was here, he did everything we asked of him. He scored. He hit. He really cared about the London Knights when he was here.

"But he's with the Toronto Maple Leafs now. It's a different level. Things are different."

One of Hunter's jobs the last two years was to prepare Kadri to play at that next level. He gave Kadri a ton of ice time, let him free-wheel with the puck -- but also reeled him in too, including sitting him out as a healthy scratch in a 2008-09 OHL game against the Sarnia Sting.

Lately, the Leafs brass -- led by GM Brian Burke and head coach Ron Wilson -- have expressed displeasure in the 19-year-old's performance this preseason.

"I haven't really watched him play much," Hunter said. "I saw him here in London (against the Flyers) and I didn't think he was too bad. He scored a nice shootout goal."

Wilson said Kadri needs to get some of the "junior" things out of his game and has been openly critical of the teenager.

Hunter who rarely, if ever, calls out a player publicly, didn't see it as a shot at him or the Knights program.

"Willie's Willie," Hunter said. "Every coach is different. I played for a lot of coaches and Nazem will play for a lot of coaches in his career, too."

Hunter keenly understands Wilson's motivational methods. He was the captain of the surprising Wilson-coached Washington Capitals that went to the 1998 Stanley Cup final.

The Caps were swept by the Detroit Red Wings, but it was the best shot Hunter had at a Cup in his 19-year playing career.

"They want Nazem to do well," Hunter said. "There's a lot of pressure when you play in Toronto or Montreal. Everything's bigger.

"You go to Toronto or Montreal and it's a fishbowl. I was in Quebec -- lots of media. If you don't do well, it can be tough. But when you do play well, you're rewarded. If you play well, the media will write nice things about you and you're like a king. It works both ways."

Hunter has launched an impressive list of players straight from the Knights to NHL stardom. Pat Kane made the jump right to Chicago and is one of the NHL's top offensive players. Rick Nash is a Columbus cornerstone and Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason was the NHL rookie of the year two years ago.

So it's not like all the Knights produce is a bunch of guys who need serious work on the American Hockey League farm before getting their big-league shot.

Kadri may end up with the AHL Marlies to start. But he won't if he does what his new bosses want.

"Every team is different," Hunter said, "and a lot is adjusting to a team's system. They play a different system in New Jersey than they do in Toronto. In Philly, they have their own system too.

"You just try to find a way to fit into it."

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