Eberle’s on-ice shooting percentage has fallen to the league average this season. He’s on pace for 30-per-cent fewer goals and what would be roughly 20 fewer points over a full 82-game season, from 15th in league scoring to out of the top 50. It’s what some predict for Kadri.
That’s not to say the 22-year-old is not an NHL-level player or can’t develop into a better one. What it does suggest, Tulsky says, is he is likely to settle in as a secondary scorer who averages 50 to 65 points a season. Ice time and better linemates will also always be a factor.
The Leafs have a difficult decision in the summer when it comes to Kadri’s next contract – as did the Oilers with Eberle’s a year ago – and the tiny sample size by which to value his worth.
Several player agents surveyed by The Globe and Mail recently noted Kadri is an especially curious case, as he spent most of his entry-level contract in the minors and exploded at the NHL level, something that almost never happens.
They believe a compromise – a three- or four-year deal for middling money – might be necessary until he proves long term how good he is.
“It’s going to be a contract based on his future potential and what he’s expected to do versus what he’s done,” one agent said.
The Leafs organization has done its best to tame expectations even as Kadri unexpectedly continues to sit ahead of superstars such as Pavel Datsyuk and Rick Nash in the NHL scoring race.
“The thing I would say about Nazzy is his body of work is very small,” Leafs GM Dave Nonis said recently, responding to questions after Kadri was feted (and kissed) by Don Cherry on Coach’s Corner. “I think we all have to recognize that. If he does have a setback – hopefully he doesn’t – we’re still dealing with a young player that’s learning a lot about the game.
“But I can’t do anything but give him credit for what he’s done so far. ... I couldn’t stand here and tell you he’s just a flash in the pan because he’s put the work in and he’s done a good job.”
Dallas Eakins, Kadri’s coach with the Marlies for 21/2 years, echoed those sentiments, saying he wouldn’t bet against one of the most competitive and skilled players he has ever had on his teams.
But Eakins, who has been part of the organization since 2006, also said that he hopes the fans and media who have already compared the young player to Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour are more understanding than they have been in the past if Kadri does come back to earth.
“We as an organization and we as a city have set up so many players for failure here,” Eakins said. “They come in and people say ‘who does [former Leafs defenceman] Carlo Colaiacovo play like? You know what – he’s like Paul Coffey!’ I’m like ‘are you [expletive] kidding me? Can we compare him to someone else? How about can he just be Carlo Colaiacovo?’ And then when [top prospect] Morgan Rielly showed up – right away, ‘do you compare him to Paul Coffey?’ Can we just let them develop? Can Nazem Kadri just be Nazem Kadri? That’s the only thing I worry about.”
Kadri seems unconcerned with talk of ups and downs to come. He’s already dealt with coaches criticizing him to reporters, and saw his face splashed on the front page of a newspaper with a soother in his mouth, since being drafted seventh overall four years ago.
Even if his dream season has involved more than a few lucky bounces going his way, he believes it was about time a few did.
“Man, I’ve faced so much adversity already,” Kadri said. “Maybe the tables have turned a little bit, and it’s all success from here. I’m sure there’s going to be some peaks and valleys, but I have to make sure I get over it.
“Right now, I think I’m playing some pretty good hockey still and helping this team win. At the end of the day, that’s really the goal.”
Players in top 30 in NHL scoring with less than 16.5 minutes of ice time per game (since 1997-98):
Scott Gomez (‘03-04)
Nazem Kadri (‘12-13)
Andrew Brunette (‘01-02)
Joe Nieuwendyk (‘97-98)
Petr Sykora (‘98-99)
Scott Gomez (‘99-00)