Kadri, Aulie to join Leafs

Rookie forward Nazem Kadri will join the Leafs in time for Saturday's home game against the...

Rookie forward Nazem Kadri will join the Leafs in time for Saturday's home game against the Canucks. (QMI Agency file photo)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:09 PM ET

TORONTO - In a perfect world, Brian Burke would have waited for Nazem Kadri to be more ready for the NHL.

But life is far from perfect around the Maple Leafs these days and the general manager has made the big move of promoting rookie Nazem Kadri to the lineup for Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

The leading scorer for the team’s AHL affiliate Toronto Marlies was on the ice Friday morning at the team’s Etobicoke practice facility skating on a line with Nik Kulemin and Tyler Bozak.

“I told him you are not a saviour here,” Burke said of the move, that also includes defenceman Keith Aulie. “You were brought in to give us a spark and don’t carry the weight of the world around. The group has to turn this around, not one or two players.

“All the things I asked Nazem to do when we sent him down, he’s done. Maybe he hasn’t perfected them, but he’s improved dramatically.

“In an ideal world, if we had won a few of the last games, we would have given him a bit longer, but he has made the adjustments we’ve asked him to make. He’s cut down on his turnovers. He’s drawing penalties every night by getting hauled down. He’s made a lot of the transformation we nee

Kadri, who has 14 points in 14 games with the Marlies, made the trip Friday morning following the team’s game in Glens Falls, N.Y. The Leafs, who have lost seven in a row and 10 of their past 11, obviously needed to make some changes.

Burke isn’t worried about Kadri handling the pressure or the spotlight of making his season’s debut with the big team under the bright lights of Hockey Night In Canada.

“He’s been a star in this country for three years,” Burke said. “I think he’s used to that a little bit. That’s part of being a Toronto Maple Leaf. This is a focal point and these games attract a lot of attention. He’s going to have to deal with that whether it’s today or two weeks from now.”

Burke isn’t treating the promotion of Aulie and Kadri as a one game tryout either. “Neither player has been assured any tenure here, that they will be here for a stretch of time nor have they been told there is a guillotine over their head, that if they don’t have a good game, they are going down.”

Kadri feels he’s ready to make the jump after getting some seasoning in the minors.

“Playing with older guys in the American League helped me develop a little bit,” said Kadri, who played one game with the Leafs last season. “I think I’m ready to play here.”

Kadri will play on the left wing, like he did with the Marlies, but not at centre where he played for most of his junior career.

“(In junior with coach Dale Hunter) he kind of liked to mix up the lines so I’m pretty comfortable playing wherever. I guess they feel there is not as much defensive responsibility for me to play as a winger and I’m okay with that. I can definitely generate speed off the wall and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Aulie, meanwhile, will be making his NHL debut on Saturday playing alongside Brett Lebda. The strapping D-man came to the Leafs in the trade that brought captain Dion Phaneuf to town.

“I felt like I was playing better and better every game and I feel I can make the jump,” Aulie said. “I’m lucky enough to get the opportunity now and I’ve got to take hold of it and do the best I can.”


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