TORONTO - Everyone expects defenceman Keith Aulie to be nervous heading into Saturday night’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks, his first NHL game. But coach Ron Wilson says he thinks Maple Leafs rookie Nazem Kadri will be feeling the same way.
“It’s really Nazem’s first game,” Wilson said Saturday morning during his media conference, usually held after the team’s skate. “Last year he was in and out, there was really no pressure. It was a chance to gain experience. This year he knows, ‘If I play well, I get to stay.’ And his job right now is to make his stop permanent. So he’ll be feeling like it’s his first game as well.”
Kadri, the team’s first selection in the 2009 draft and seventh overall, was called up from the Marlies to help inject some offence into the struggling lineup and skated with the team on Friday. The 188-pound forward made his NHL debut last season on Feb. 8 against the San Jose Sharks. He was minus-1 in 17:26 minutes of ice time, with no points.
The 20-year-old Kadri had five goals and nine assists, and was a plus-two in 14 games with the Marlies this season. He is likely to skate on a line with Nikolai Kulemin and Tyler Bozak.
Aulie, meanwhile, should be paired with veteran Brett Lebda. The 6-foot-5, 217-pounder came to the Leafs in the trade that brought captain Dion Phaneuf to the team.
“I just want him to play simple,” Wilson said of the 21-year-old defenceman. “We’ll monitor his iced time. I imagine he’ll get 12 to 15 minutes. He’s a great skater, heads-up player, big. He doesn’t play an overly aggressive physical game or anything like that. But you can’t teach size like that and reach. Hopefully he can settle in, he’s going to be nervous.”
The Leafs (5-7-3) canceled their morning skate ahead of their contest with the high-flying Canucks (9-4-2) at the Air Canada Centre.
“We occasionally like to change it up, if things aren’t going well, don’t have a skate,” Wilson said. “Personally, I don’t like them. I don’t know of many coaches who do, but it seems to be imbedded in the players’ minds that they have to have a skate.”
Toronto has lost seven consecutive games and 10 of its past 11. In that seven-game span, including 4-0 and 4-1 losses in Florida this week, they have scored just nine goals. It’s Toronto’s worst stretch since opening last season 0-7-1.
The Canucks, meanwhile, will be going for their eighth win in nine games and fourth consecutive victory in Toronto.
Continuing a season-high five-game road trip, Vancouver will go for its fourth consecutive victory in Toronto and sixth straight in this series dating to Nov. 24, 2003.