Kadri working his way back

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the...

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri celebrates his goal against the Buffalo Sabres during the third period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto Dec. 22, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:30 PM ET

Dallas Eakins knows that Maple Leafs fans wanted Nazem Kadri to be a star yesterday.

But as the Leafs build depth — Ron Wilson has more talent now than at any time in his three-plus seasons behind the bench — there’s a trickle-down effect throughout the organization.

And you can bet Eakins, the coach of the Toronto Marlies, views that as a positive.

“As that big club has got better as a group, it is harder to make it, and that’s how we want it,” Eakins said on Monday. “We want it to be very hard to make that NHL club because it means they are good and in the playoffs and going in the right direction.

“Here, in the past, there were guys playing in the NHL that got the spot because there was no one else and there was no challenge. Now there are challenges from everywhere.”

The challenge now for Kadri isn’t necessarily from other players. It comes from within for the 2009 first-rounder, who has spent the past several days coming to grips with the fact that he’s a Marlie again and will be, presumably, until the Leafs have an injury or two at forward (or, perhaps, he’s part of a trade package).

“Nazem’s name has been mentioned so many times over the past two years, everybody thinks he is 29 years old,” Eakins said. “He is in his early 20s, a second-year pro, and this is how it is going to be.”

Kadri said his mental state “is pretty good.” The 21-year-old has played in 19 games for the Leafs this season, recording four goals and two assists. With the Marlies, he has 23 points (eight goals and 15 assists) in 24 games.

Once the Leafs became healthy at forward, Kadri was back in the car, heading for Ricoh Coliseum.

“We have some of the most passionate fans in the world, but sometimes they are not too patient,” Kadri said. “I realize and I think the management of the Leafs realizes my potential, and what I could do especially with growing a little bit and becoming a little more explosive. They think I have a bright future and I think I do too, and I don’t want to disappoint anyone.”

The Marlies are one game into a 10-game home stand, with their next road game on Feb. 29 in Hamilton. The comforts of home? Kadri is ready to get cozy.

“One of the hardest things about this league is the travel and those bus trips obviously suck,” Kadri said. “It is nice to have this stretch at home so I can take my mind off things a little bit and just focus on the task at hand.”

BEN ON THE BALL

Goaltender Ben Scrivens appears to be back in a groove, winning four of his past five starts.

Scrivens had an admirable stint with the Leafs in November, but fell into a hole when he was returned to the Marlies, going 4-7-1 before his recent spurt of success.

“That was one of the deeper valleys I have been in during my hockey career,” Scrivens said. “It’s not something you want to go through, and I don’t intend on going back to that place. I have to be able to look at it from a bird’s eye view and say it was just a blip on the radar.”

Scrivens should get the lion’s share of the work in the final couple of months if he plays to his potential. Jussi Rynnas is expected to get a lot of minutes with Reading of the East Coast Hockey League, leaving Mark Owuya as Scrivens’ competition.

“We want (Scrivens) to be a 60-65 minute goaltender, whatever it takes to win the game,” Eakins said. “His numbers are pretty good right now, but the most important stat is the win column.

“This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, as is the NHL. We’re constantly looking to see who the guy is going to be, and right now it is Ben.”

ROSS RAPPED

Brad Ross, the Leafs’ first pick in 2010 (43rd overall) is back practising with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League after the club suspended him for two games.

“It was a small team violation,” Leafs director of player development Jim Hughes said. “There’s nothing to say about it other than that we’re dealing with 18- and 19-year-old kids. It’s a good learning tool.”

Ross has 61 points, including 31 goals and 30 goals, and 125 penalty minutes in 49 games this season. His next goal will mark a career high in the WHL.

LEAFS PROSPECTS REPORT

THREE STARS

1. Josh Nicholls

Saskatoon Blades

Leafs’ seventh-rounder in 2010 has come off a six-week knee-injury layoff with three goals and eight points his past four games. The 6-foot-2, 192-pound winger is a sound two-way type who leads his team with four shorthanded goals.

2. Denny Urban

Reading Royals

Free-agent signing a year ago out of Robert Morris U., where he set a school record for defence points. Small but skilled, he was 1-3-4 in three games last week. Pittsburgh native’s 14 PP points ranks him second among ECHL rookies.

3. Eric Knodel

U. of New Hampshire

This 6-foot-6 D-man had his best weekend of the year with a goal and two assists in a two-game sweep of Providence. Of note: Plays on the same team as Trevor van Riemsdyk and Scott Pavelski, both younger brothers of NHLers.

LEAFS PROSPECTS STATS

TORONTO MARLIES (AHL)

GP G A P

Mike Zigomanis, C 44 13 30 43

Ryan Hamilton, LW 46 17 17 34

Joe Colborne, C 36 14 17 31

Marcel Mueller, F 44 11 19 30

Jerry D’Amigo, LW 47 10 19 29

Greg Scott, RW 46 12 15 27

Nazem Kadri, C 24 8 15 23

Simon Gysbers, D 40 4 13 17

Nic. Deschamps, LW 44 7 9 16

Jesse Blacker, D 42 0 13 13

Jeff Finger, D 31 3 7 10

Matt Frattin, RW 14 8 3 11

Will Acton, LW 42 5 6 11

Kelsey Wilson, LW 47 3 8 11

Korbinian Holzer, D 41 1 10 11

Philippe Dupuis, C 13 2 7 9

Josh Engel, D 39 3 4 7

READING ROYALS (ECHL)

Denny Urban, D 46 6 19 25

Dale Mitchell, RW 24 13 11 24

Kenny Ryan, RW 14 4 7 11

Tyler Brenner, RW 14 3 6 9

Dave Cowan, D 33 1 6 7

Matt Caruana, C 13 2 3 5

JUNIOR

Brad Ross 49 31 30 61

LW, 19, Portland (WHL)

Greg McKegg 48 24 34 58

C, 19, London (OHL)

Sam Carrick 52 26 21 47

C, 20, Brampton (OHL)

Josh Leivo 47 22 25 47

LW, 18, Sudbury (OHL)

Josh Nicholls 37 23 21 44

RW, 19, Saskatoon (WHL)

Andrew Crescenzi 38 15 20 35

C, 19, Kitchener (OHL)

Jamie Devane 42 17 17 34

LW, 20, Plymouth (OHL)

Tony Cameranesi 33 13 15 28

C, 18, Waterloo (USHL)

Stuart Percy 25 4 18 22

D, 18, St. Michael’s (OHL)

Sondre Olden 32 6 14 20

C, 19, Erie (OHL)

David Broll 44 2 17 19

LW, 19, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

NCAA

Tyler Biggs 26 6 5 11

RW, 18, U. of Miami-Ohio

Dennis Robertson 23 1 9 10

D, 20, Brown University

Eric Knodel 27 2 7 9

D, 21, U. of New Hampshire

Andrew MacWilliam 27 2 4 6

D, 21, U. of North Dakota

Max Everson 22 0 1 1

D, 18, Harvard

GOALIES

W-L-O GAA PCT

Mark Owuya 5-4-1 2.16 .925

Marlies (AHL), 22

Ben Scrivens, 25 12-9-1 2.28 .914

Marlies (AHL)

Garret Sparks 18-16-3 2.91 9.13

Guelph (OHL), 18

Jussi Rynnas 3-2-0 4.73 .880

Reading (ECHL), 24

Grant Rollheiser 2-0-0 3.34 .885

Boston U. (NCAA), 22


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