There’s no surprise that the Leafs returned forward Nazem Kadri to the Toronto Marlies of the AHL on Wednesday.

The only surprise is that the transaction didn’t come sooner.

Kadri has been a healthy scratch in the Leafs’ three of the past 4 games, including last night when only 11 forwards suited up in the team’s loss to Carolina. In 17 NHL games this year, Toronto’s first round draft pick in 2009 has not scored a goal and has collected 6 assists.

Arguably the highlight of his Leafs season so far has been scoring in a shootout against Boston on December 4, lifting a backhand over the shoulder of leading Vezina Trophy candidate Tim Thomas. The goal is not credited to his personal stats.

Yet in spite of all the praise heaped upon the 20-year-old forward by one Don Cherry on national TV, Kadri continues to struggle at the game’s highest level, as is to be expected with almost any player within a year of coming out of junior hockey.

“He’s still got to get a lot stronger,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson of Kadri, on Wednesday. “There’s areas of the game (where) he’s just not at an NHL level yet. That’s strength, little areas like faceoffs, winning battles, being quick to do things, avoiding turnovers.”

Turnovers have been evident in Kadri’s game since the pre-season. Wilson is also bang-on in identifying faceoffs as an area of improvement for the youngster, whose winning percentage on draws is a horrendous 37.7% with the Leafs.

“He knows the things that he has to do, now he has to work on them, practice them and execute them in games, said Wilson. “The best thing for him right now is to go down to the minors, play, score at the level he can score at, and gain some confidence.”

Kadri was assessed a two-game suspension by the AHL on Saturday, November 13, for unsportsmanlike actions in a game in which the Marlies defeated the Adirondack Phantoms. That same day, Kadri joined the Leafs in Vancouver for the last game of Toronto’s western road trip that week.

With the Marlies playing against Chicago tonight and versus Rochester tomorrow, Kadri is eligible to play next on New Year’s Eve for the team’s game in Grand Rapids.

Rob Del Mundo is a regular columnist at

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