Nazem Kadri
The expectations surrounding Nazem Kadri can’t be understated.

To provide some perspective, consider that he is the highest Leafs forward drafted over the course of his entire lifetime.

Now 21 years of age and in his second season with the Marlies, Kadri has endured more than a fair dose of questions as to whether his playing career can continue in the tempest of the Toronto market. In 33 career Leafs games during which he has amassed just 13 points, the 2009 seventh-overall draft choice has shown flashes of creativity, but also a tendency to overextend his shifts compounded with a flawed defensive game.

If there’s reason to be optimistic about Kadri one day permanently moving his dressing room stall from Ricoh Coliseum to Air Canada Centre, it’s his play from the past month. Kadri was named the Reebok/AHL Player of the Month for November, registering six goals and 17 points in 12 games.

Although Kadri had an eight-game point streak stopped in the Marlies 2-1 victory over Hamilton on Friday night, his production continues to be better than a point per game (7 goals, 14 assists in 18 games).

After last weekend’s game versus Houston, Kadri acknowledged a difference in his mindset from when his minor pro career first started. “That’s probably one of the things I’ve learned over my pro career. I wasn’t a very patient guy coming into pro hockey. That’s something I’ve learned to accept – to kind of just take your time. I’m going to get my shot eventually.”

His turnovers are still evident. But his reactions to them are less self-berating and more constructive. The tutelage of Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins and assistant coaches Derek King and Gord Dineen has been based on positive reinforcement, which is paying dividends.

“When I make the odd mistake that I do now, and have a turnover in a crucial part of the ice, they kind of just come over to me, discuss what happened, and tell me to keep my head up and just keep going,” said Kadri. “They understand that I’m the type of player to have some mistakes sometimes in order to do what I do.

“I think Derek King has just done an unbelievable job with me, just giving me the confidence and being able to shrug things off. When he just keeps encouraging me to do better and better, I play better and better.”

Eakins acknowledged both the progress in Kadri’s game and also the propsect’s willingness to learn by simplifying this play.

“It’s night and day from when he arrived,” said Eakins. “The first six games or so, I was reeling a little bit. He was kind of back to square one where we got him the year before. I think a lot had to do with his injury and his fitness level. So we’ve got him ramped up in that category and it’s an ongoing conversation with him. A lot of times the things we’re asking Nazem to do, they’re too easy for him.

A great example is this: late in the game, he enters the zone over the blueline, and we want to get the puck deep. He could have just chipped it deep and skated around the defence, but he decides he’s going to go in, he’s going to pull up and now he’s going to put it deep on his backhand around the guy’s back. The first play’s too easy for him; his skill level’s so high. So it’s one of those things where we’ve got to preach and show him on the video. ‘Listen, this is one of these instances where a little chip play that is so beneath you is the right play’. And he’s buying in.”

The Marlies host Albany on Saturday before embarking on a four-game road trip that will end just in time for Christmas. With centre Joe Colborne returning to AHL after a couple of Leafs have returned from sick bay, the competition for the next call-up will intensify.

Kadri is hoping for an inside track.

“Kudos to the coaching staff – they help me stay patient. They get me right on track and back to what I’ve been doing, and I think that’s one of the best parts of my game this year, just being consistent. I definitely think that’s what the big club’s looking for.”

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and is a regular columnist at

Follow on Twitter: