TORONTO - Just call Nazem Kadri a keener.
As one of the Maple Leafs with plenty to prove this season, Kadri was flying around the MasterCard Centre on Wednesday, among 15 players who’ve begun informal workouts in advance of the Sept. 16 training camp opener.
A year ago, the eyes of Leafs Nation were on the brash first-round pick of 2009, who was aiming to get a high-profile role at centre on a team shy of skilled forwards.
The Leafs’ rookie camp was in his hometown of London, Ont., the perfect stage, yet Kadri didn’t make the jump to Toronto as hoped. On his first recall from the AHL Marlies — in the midst of the Leafs’ first-half funk — he netted six assists in 16 games despite some quality ice time. But he found more success with the bottom six forwards as a winger in his second trip up, staying from mid-March until the end of the season.
“I think a lot of people will be looking at me,” Kadri said, “but everyone is looking at everyone (for competition on the roster). Guys are trying to earn jobs. I think it will be healthy competition.”
Not yet 21, Kadri looks a lot more fit for this season. He’ll be skipping the rookie camp in Oshawa next month and going right to the main camp.
“This off-season wasn’t about (growing) for me, it was about leaning out and getting stronger and I think I accomplished both. I feel great and I’m really excited. I know I’m ready to go.”
The first two forward lines look nearly set from last season and while checking centre Tim Brent and winger Fredrik Sjostrom are gone, the anticipated arrival of Matthew Lombardi once he’s cleared from a concussion will make the employment line a long one.
But Kadri is getting an early start with the main group of Leafs working out at the team’s Etobicoke practice rink. So is last year’s top scorer, Phil Kessel, who is hoping to strike gold with new centre Tim Connolly who is expected to join the informal sessions in the next few days. Winger Colby Armstrong, cursed by injuries last season, was also at MasterCard on Wednseday. Defencemen Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles were recently working out off the ice with this same group of Leafs and Marlies.
“You can feel the excitement because camp is coming up fast,” Kadri said. “It’s nice to get all the rust out and sharpen up the tools before we get going.”