His latest callup has only been all of six games, but already there are signs that Nazem Kadri is getting more accustomed to life in the NHL.
There have been fewer turnovers, fewer admonishments from coach Ron Wilson and more offensive production, with two goals and an assist in his last four games. Kadri was rewarded with almost 17 minutes ice time against the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.
The Toronto Maple Leafs rookie said that, after 44 games in the minors, he feels he's now far more prepared to contribute.
"I think being more of a complete hockey player is going to help this team and going to help myself," Kadri said. "That offence is going to be there, but as soon as I tweak my defensive game and find myself in the right spots then everything else will fall into place."
He added that this season has been "humbling" given he was a highly productive junior and drafted seventh overall in 2009 but couldn't make the Leafs out of training camp.
Kadri had 17 goals and 41 points in his time with the Toronto Marlies, one sign he may be able to contribute at least offensively at the NHL level in the near future.
"It has been a little bit humbling for me, obviously some tough times and some good times," he said. "I've overcome it. Obviously there's some things I've got to work on. By all means, I don't know everything by now. There's a lot to work on and a lot to prove to myself and other people, but I think I'm on my way."
Wilson said he likes what he sees from Kadri now as compared to his first 17-game stint with the team.
"Each time [you get called up] the game gets a little bit slower," Wilson said. "You understand what's going on, you know what you can get away with and what you can't. What works and what doesn't. I think that's what you're finally starting to see with Nazzy. He needed to go back and work on his game and simplify things and that's what he's done this time.
"In general, not very many turnovers, no more than anybody else on our team, and he's starting to show his speed a little bit better. He understands in our league you've got to go all out, all the time. And he's done a really good job."
Kadri has been playing the majority of his ice time with Darryl Boyce and Joey Crabb, with a few shifts also as a centre between Crabb and Freddy Sjostrom.
Long term, the hope is that he'll shift into more of a top six role and not skate with a couple of grinders, but it's hard to say where he fits in with this team next season. It's expected that GM Brian Burke will try to add a first-line centre via trade in the off-season, which would leave Kadri in a battle for more of a depth role with the likes of Tyler Bozak.
Kadri will need a good training camp, something he failed to do last fall, in order to make the team and receive the sort of minutes he's getting now. Still only 20, he may need more time in the minors to develop.
One area he desperately needs to improve on is his work in the faceoff circle, as his 38.3 per cent success rate is last among Leafs players with 100-plus faceoffs and near the bottom of the league. Until that number comes up significantly, he may be spending most of his time on the wing.
- Really not a lot to talk about from practice today, with the Leafs on the verge of elimination and their sixth-last game of the season against the Buffalo Sabres tomorrow. Toronto could be mathematically unable to catch Buffalo by as soon as Wednesday night, at which point Burke will speak with the media about the disappointment of missing the playoffs.
No injuries to speak of and James Reimer is getting the start against the Sabres. Expect a lineup similar to the one that played on the last road trip, with Brett Lebda likely out of the lineup.
Here's what Wilson had to say today about tomorrow's game and a few of his players: