Kadri centre of attention in Toronto

Nazem Kadri tries the wrap around on Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen while getting tied up by Nicklas...

Nazem Kadri tries the wrap around on Dallas Stars' Kari Lehtonen while getting tied up by Nicklas Grossman. (Dave Abel/QMI AGENCY)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:27 PM ET

TORONTO - With a parade of prominent recent NHL draft picks set to tour the town this week, the Leafs are putting the closest thing they have to one front and centre.

Rookie Nazem Kadri will get his first shot as the team’s main man in the middle as Toronto coach Ron Wilson looks to shake the dormant offence out of its recent doldrums.

Kadri, who has played all seven games since being promoted from the AHL Marlies on the wing, is expected centre a unit that features the team’s two leading goal scorers — Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur — when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night

On a team that has scored just once in its past two games and has been shut out five times in its first 22 games, it’s hard to question any move right now.

“He seems to have played fine at the wing,” Wilson said following Monday’s practice at the MasterCard Centre. “Now the challenge is can he be creative offensively without being a real detriment defensively. I think he understands that.”

Kadri lacked both offence and defence during his poor training camp that left management no choice but to send him to the Marlies to start the season. Since he got the call to the Leafs on Nov. 20 however, Kadri hasn’t looked out of place. He has yet to score a goal, but has had four assists and has been a regular on the power play.

Though he was centre during much of his junior career, when he was first recalled Wilson suggested that Kadri was destined for a long stint on the wing as he worked to pick up his defensive responsibilities.

The fact that he has paired with Kessel and MacArthur shows that Wilson believes the London, Ont., native is at least ready for a shot at leading a legitimate first line for the struggling club.

“I guess I’m the permanent centre on the line, but nothing really changes,” Kadri said after a practice in which he was one of the last Leafs players to leave the ice. “I was a natural centre growing up so I know what to do. I’ve still got a lot to learn and I know that, but this is a step forward for sure.

“I know with (Kessel), he kind of likes to move around a bit so I will use that to my advantage. We will both take our ice so we can both attack with speed.”

Nothing is carved in stone, of course, as Wilson is never shy about shuffling. In fact, Kadri spent most of the third period in Saturday’s 3-0 loss at centre, his first extended stint at the position this season.

It may seem like Kadri is being rushed along, but what choice do the Leafs have given the regression of Tyler Bozak? And Kadri has probably been the most creative Toronto player over the past handful of games.

The latest line re-tooling comes as the Leafs embark on an intriguing three-game home stand that will see a steady stream of top draft picks face a team that didn’t have a first-rounder last season.

It starts Tuesday with Tampa Bay and NHL leading scorer Steven Stamkos (first overall, class of 2008) followed by Thursday’s date with the Oilers and last year’s first overall pick, Taylor Hall.

Should the Leafs lose both of those, imagine the carnival around Saturday’s date with the Bruins when Tyler Seguin makes his first visit to the Air Canada Centre. Is there still need to remind anyone how the Leafs got that pick?

“I think everyone is frustrated but you can only say so many things in the dressing room,” Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn said of the growing storm around the team. “We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the league, but we could definitely be the hardest working.

“Everyone needs to take it upon themselves to be better on the ice. That just has to come from within.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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