TORONTO – In his seventh NHL season, Nazem Kadri is looking to shoulder more responsibilities with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As the Leafs implement young players such as rookies Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner into the lineup, Kadri is looking to be relied on as more of a leader in the dressing room.
“That's the plan. I've done a lot of work during summer and tried to really wrap my head around that,” Kadri said. “It's something I've always wanted, took a little bit of time for me to understand what exactly I need to do to take on that role. I think I've got a pretty good understanding. Whether you get a letter or not, you still have to lead by example, and that's what I intend on doing.”
Kadri produced 17 goals and 28 assists in 76 games last season. His 45 points led all Maple Leafs players last season. Heading into the summer, Toronto’s management rewarded the 26-year-old restricted free agent with a new six-year, $27 million contract.
In addition to travelling to Helsinki, Finland for teammate Leo Komarov’s wedding over the summer, Kadri used some of his off-season to focus on being a better leader.
“In particular skates just trying to take the lead and organize some summer skates, just stuff like that,” he said. “Obviously off-ice taking care of yourself, and it starts in the gym. Nutrition is part of it so all those kinds of things intertwine and help make you, not only a leader, but a better person.”
Originally Toronto’s seventh overall pick at the 2009 NHL Draft, Kadri has six years of experience with the Maple Leafs under his belt. In 326 career NHL games, the 6-foot, 188-pound forward has netted 81 goals and 197 points.
Given his experience, Kadri admitted he heard from both general manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Mike Babcock about taking on more of a leadership role with the club during the franchise’s 100th season.
“It's something I've always tried to do and obviously Lou and Babs have stressed that to me, wanted me to take on that leadership role and just be a good example for the young guys,” said Kadri. “For me, obviously I'm still learning as well. I don't know it all by any means, but I'm going to do the best I can to help out these kids and make them understand."
Many prognosticators have Kadri pegged as the Leafs first-line centre heading into the 2016/17 season. The London, Ontario native was second behind only teammate Tyler Bozak in the team's faceoff winning percentage last season (49.2 percent).
In addition to Kadri and Bozak, Matthews, Nylander and Peter Holland are all capable of playing centre. Given the depth, Kadri isn’t concerned about wearing the tag of ‘No. 1 centre’.
“If you see all these successful teams and all these contending teams, they've got depth down the middle so either way you cut it, one, two, three, four - you're going to need everybody to make a contribution and to play together,” said Kadri. “We're not playing against each other out there. We're a team we're playing together.”
Being a former first-round pick, and growing into his leadership role, Kadri spent some time during the summer getting to know Matthews and helping the Scottsdale, Arizona native understand what to expect of his first NHL season.
“Just kind of gave him the run down a little bit of what happened last year and just why to expect and no to put too much pressure on himself,” Kadri said. “He's a young kid. No matter what he does this year, he's going to end up being a pretty good hockey player in this league.
“Especially in Toronto, you're not playing a market like Carolina or Florida where you can go in as the No. 1 pick and no one's going to really talk about you. I think he understands that, I think he understands not to put too much pressure on himself. He's a hell of a hockey player so he's just got to go out there and play.”