An unfortunate injury to Tyler Bozak has given Nazem Kadri the biggest opportunity of his career.
The Toronto Maple Leafs could be without Bozak for up to two weeks, and to deal with the injury Coach Randy Carlyle has moved Kadri onto the top line.
The opportunity to play on the first-line between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk is the best chance Kadri has had in his career to prove he’s a superstar center in the NHL. The 22-year-old has shown he has tremendous potential on the offensive end after recording 44 points in 48 games last season. Now he’ll have the chance to prove last season wasn’t a fluke.
Kadri’s job could be very easy centering Kessel and van Riemsdyk, as the chemistry the American wingers have shown to begin the year is just as good, if not better than any other two teammates in the league. Despite van Riemsdyk missing two games due to back spasms, the American wingers have combined for 25 points in 12 games this season. Adding an offensive weapon like Kadri between the wingers could send the line over the top given Kadri’s creative playmaking ability. The center’s vision on the ice has sometimes been too good for the wingers he’s played with as often his teammates are shocked to find the puck on their stick and forget to fire it on net. Playing with Kessel and van Riemsdyk will certainly ensure Kadri won’t have to worry about surprising the high-scoring wingers with the puck.
It’ll be interesting to see how Kadri manages the defensive side of playing on Toronto’s top line. Bozak is a responsible defensive checker for the Maple Leafs and did a lot of the little things that allowed Kessel and van Riemsdyk to excel on the offensive end. Bozak is great at face-offs and going into the corners to retrieve the puck. Kadri struggles in the face-off dot and often leaves the job of going into the corners to his wingers.
Although Kadri isn’t nearly as good defensively as Bozak, Bozak doesn’t have anywhere close to the offensive talent Kadri does. It wouldn’t be surprising if this quickly becomes a case of sacrificing defense for offense in Bozak’s absence.
If Kadri is going to excel offensively on the top line he’ll have to prove he’s capable of playing against the opposition’s top defensive pairings on a nightly basis. He’s shown flashes in the past of being a scoring machine but too often has followed up impressive performances by taking nights off. He should have all the motivation to prove he can compete against the best after signing a bridge contract worth $5.8 million over two years. Kadri wanted the long-term contract extension like the Edmonton Oilers have been handing out like candy, but Toronto management wants him to prove he deserves it before dishing out big figures over multiple years.
If Kadri can prove he’s capable of being consistent and hustling his tail off at both ends of the ice, he’ll earn the type of contract he wanted in the summer. He’s not going to have a better chance to showcase his talents than playing on the top line with the team’s top two scorers.