|Nazem Kadri was looking at a demotion to the Marlies before he took advantage of a chance to play on the top line last night. (QMI Agency/Jack Boland)
TORONTO - Whether Ron Wilson is the coach who gets official custody of Nazem Kadri next week, or it's Dallas Eakins next door with the Toronto Marlies, no introductions will be needed.
With Kadri set to play another pre-season game Friday night in Detroit -- his fifth of eight Leafs exhibition games -- he'll have put in time with every conceivable line at training camp and seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Leafs Nation. One day his back is sore from a public flogging after three pointless outings, which his own team's hockey department joined in, the next he's getting slaps of congrats for being first star with two goals and an assist. On Friday, he'll be with Mikahil Grabovksi and the red-hot Nikolai Kulemin, which could boost Kadri's profile even higher.
"I got a dose of this (attention) last year, but this is almost surreal," Kadri said Thursday at the MasterCard Centre. "It's like a roller-coaster ride, some downs, some ups, but that's like most guys' careers. It's just important how you battle back."
Kadri is certainly a survivor, from what seemed like certain demotion to the Marlies early in the week to looking like Mats-em Kadri in Ottawa. So if he does well Friday, does Wilson use him in the pre-season finale on Saturday at home against the Wings, billed as the dress rehearsal for Thursday's season opener against Montreal?
Wilson continues to bring up Kadri's green years, defensive liabilities and ordinary camp in comparison to rival centre Tim Brent, but has kept Kadri with the last five surplus forwards this week and for one reason or another, found a place for him in exhibition games. On Wednesday, it was on first line left wing when Kris Versteeg had a date with the Stanley Cup jeweller in Chicago and Friday, it's because second line port sider Clarke MacArthur has a sore groin.
That led to speculation Kadri could somehow survive the final cuts as as a winger.
"He's not better right now than the four wingers he is subbing for," Wilson quickly retorted. "He's not a third-line or fourth-line guy. Where he's going to play in the NHL, wing or centre, remains to be seen, but I think he still has a lot to learn about the game.
"Who knows how he will play tomorrow night? We'll go from there."
Wilson and general manager Brian Burke have been adamant that the soon-to-be 20-year-old would be ill-used if parked in the press box when the real games start. Wilson also worries that keeping Kadri because he's a first-round pick sends the wrong message to the journeyman Brent.
"You don't stand up at the start of camp, say there are jobs open and then reward people who work hard by sending them to the minors," Wilson said. "If you weren't ready, shame on you, you're going to start some-where else."
Wilson did repeat that a rash of injuries as the Leafs suffered late this week can quickly change the picture.
"I'm ready for anything," Kadri insisted. "It's their decision, but I'm going to keep working and striving to make this team.
"My last performance was pretty good, but I have to keep that on a consistent basis. You can't look too far ahead or you steer yourself into some difficulties.
"The guys I was playing with (first liners Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel) took a lot of the attention off of me. One thing I really wanted to focus on was my defence. I needed a little time to adjust (to left wing), but in London I played all three forward positions."
In his office across the hall at MasterCard, Eakins is waiting patiently for the final Leafs cuts, some of which could come as early as Saturday morning.
"I will get somebody good because they can only carry 23 players," Eakins said. "I'm aware of what's going on over there, but I'm not sitting here worried about whether I get Brent or Kadri. Whomever walks in the door, we'll get busy with them and try to develop them."