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Making his NHL debut, Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri gets set in the face-off circle during second period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks in Toronto Monday, February 8, 2010. (Darren Calabrese)
Making his NHL debut, Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri gets set in the face-off circle during second period NHL hockey action against the San Jose Sharks in Toronto Monday, February 8, 2010. (Darren Calabrese)

Kadri staying put for now Add to ...

In many ways, calling up Nazem Kadri would seem to be the logical conclusion to draw.

The Toronto Maple Leafs, with only seven goals in their past six games, can't put the puck in the net.

Down on their farm team, meanwhile, the franchise's top prospect leads the way with four goals and four assists after eight games, generating offence despite playing for the last-place team in the AHL.

But Kadri's staying a Marlie - perhaps for the season - while lower profile teammates such as Christian Hanson and Luca Caputi are with the big club in key roles.

And his coach said Monday that that's the way it should be.

"It's exactly the right situation," Marlies coach Dallas Eakins said. "You know what, he has enough skill and creativity right now to play in the NHL. The problem is, that skill and creativity will be just greatly exposed [when he makes mistakes]and he would be the goat in the NHL."

That's what the organization says it's trying to avoid with Kadri, despite recent protestations from high-profile commentators such as Don Cherry.

Cherry used his Hockey Night in Canada pulpit on the weekend to blast Leafs general manager Brian Burke's decision to leave the 20-year-old in the minors, a move that has been increasingly debated as Toronto has struggled to score.

"How you can keep a kid down there that's getting goal after goal … is beyond me," Cherry said, rattling off a long list of teenagers who have found success in the NHL of late. "He should be here."

Eakins said he respectfully disagrees.

"I love Don Cherry, I love watching Coach's Corner," he said. "But those are Don's opinions and Don's not the general manager of the Maple Leafs, nor is he the coach, or have anything to do with our organization.

"He's like a lot of people in this town - and they're all entitled to their opinions and it makes great talk for around the water cooler - but we're going to do what's right for this young man and we know we are doing what is right for him right now."

The type of no-nonsense former minor-leaguer who often turns into a solid coach, Eakins played almost 900 games in the minors but only 120 in the NHL.

He realizes, in other words, the type of opportunity Kadri has, and with only a season, at most, to work with him, has made it a priority to wipe out any poor habits he picked up in junior.

Eakins said Kadri will learn the most from Marlies teammates such as Alex Foster, Darryl Boyce and Ryan Hamilton, undrafted players who have been battling for a sniff of the NHL for years.

"Those are the guys to watch because those are pro hockey players," Eakins said. "Those three guys, they lead by example. And our young players aren't stupid, they think, 'Okay that's how it's done here, that's what I'm going to do.'"

Eakins added that it's difficult to set a time frame for when Kadri will be ready to be part of the answer to the Leafs' scoring woes.

"It takes as long as it takes," he said. "And that's up to Naz. It's not like he's snubbing his nose up to us or giving us the finger and saying 'Hey, I'm going to play how I play and you guys deal with it.' This kid wants to learn.

"But when you've been playing a certain way for a long time, it's not just I go to him and say 'Quit turning over the puck' and he just flicks a switch and it's over. It takes time to get into new habits. But he's taking the right steps.

"I think there's been this dark cloud cast upon him across the city because he's down in the minors … but this kid is on the right track. He's going the right direction. He's committed. It will only be a matter of time until he's ready and it'll be up to him how long that time is."

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