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Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates in the pre-game warm-up prior to a game against the San Jose Sharks on February 8, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Claus Andersen/2010 Getty Images

Leafs coach Ron Wilson's frequent lineup juggling takes a new turn tonight against the Thrashers as a defenceman skates on the wing.

Toronto's first-round pick in 2009, meanwhile, will get his second taste of press box popcorn in two games.

Brett Lebda is the lucky blueliner, bringing his no goals and one assist in 16 games (and a minus-12) to the fourth line alongside John Mitchell and Colton Orr.

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Nazem Kadri is the prospect, as his offensive exploits have him goalless with six assists in 16 games.

Wilson said after the morning skate today, however, that Kadri won't be demoted to the Marlies in the near future.

"He's not going down," Wilson said. "I'm using the next four days for him to get stronger and faster. In better shape and a lot stronger than he's shown in games. That's what part of this is for.

"Tampa kind of did this a couple years ago with their young players. They play 10 games then sit out two or three and use the schedule to their advantage to get a little bit stronger and faster. And that was particularly the case with [Steve]Stamkos and you saw him from go from the beginning where he couldn't get anything done to being a better player at the end of the season and using that to springboard into last year and where he is now.

"We're going to try and do a similar project with Nazzy. He's got to get stronger. It's simple."

Wilson added that the 20 year old doesn't appear physically ready to play in the NHL, despite the fact he gained roughly 15 pounds in the off-season.

"He can be slightly built like Colby Armstrong is but he's got hockey strength," he said. "Nazzy hasn't had to have that in the past. Now he's seeing that he's got to get quicker and he's got to get stronger. That's just based on his experience. You can't argue with it. His numbers aren't lying either.

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"He's not producing the offence that a player like that needs to produce. And a lot of it comes from him getting caught from behind, getting bumped off the puck and not winning enough battles in tight areas. He knows that. Everybody see that. The only thing he can do right now is we take him out of the lineup and really work on the strength part of his game."

Tough love, in other words, for a seventh overall pick who likely should be spending a full season in the AHL given where his game is at. Kadri was only called up by the Leafs in truly desperate circumstances, with the team on a 1-7-3 slide during which it scored 16 goals in those 11 games and fell into the league's basement.

Initially, he helped the situation, with four assists in his first five games, but Kadri has two points in his last 11 games and has gone minus-6 in that span.

As for the thinking behind using Lebda in Kadri's place and as a forward, Wilson offered the following reasoning.

"We're going to give him a shot up front," he said. "He played last year actually 18 games with the Red Wings on the left wing. And, I mean, we like his speed. If we need to use him on the back end, he's also available for that, too. Maybe play a little bit on the point on the power play as well.

"He's such a good skater. With playing like left wing on the fourth line I can almost automatically say he'll be the third man high and it's like playing with three defencemen. He's struggled a little bit on the back end and with our defence being healthy, it's a chance to keep him in the lineup."

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It's a curious decision for a team struggling mightily for offence, but it's not as if the Leafs bottom six forwards have generated much offence this season anyway. Tim Brent, Freddy Sjostrom, Armstrong, Mitchell and Orr have combined for seven goals in 32 games this season.

It's not unusual, however, for a team to dress seven defencemen and rarely use its fourth line or double shift another forward there, which may be what we see from Lebda tonight.

Either way, Toronto will likely have its hands full with Atlanta, which is 11-2-2 in its last 15 games. More on the Thrashers to come later today.

Leafs lineup

MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Versteeg - Bozak - Kessel Sjostrom - Brent - Armstrong Lebda - Mitchell - Orr

Beauchemin - Phaneuf Kaberle - Schenn Gunnarsson - Komisarek


Thrashers lineup (based on last game)

Kane - Little - Stewart Ladd - Peverley - Antropov Boulton - Slater - Thorburn Modin - Burmistrov - Stapleton

Byfuglien - Enstrom Bogosian - Oduya Hainsey - Sopel


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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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