Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Nazem Kadri scores the game-winning goal against the Oilers on Tuesday.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

When the doors slid open at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility on Monday afternoon, the media horde headed in one familiar direction: to Nazem Kadri's dressing-room stall.

That's not new. Kadri has always been a destination player for the cameras. This time, it was for a controversial hit on Vancouver Canucks star Daniel Sedin. At other times, it has been because he scored a goal or because he was a high draft pick or simply because he is never afraid to speak his mind.

Lately, however, Kadri has been getting attention for a different reason: for taking on the NHL's best players and coming out ahead.

Story continues below advertisement

The Leafs are on a three-game winning streak and were in a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference prior to Monday's games. Twelve games into the season, they're on pace for 89 points – which would be a 20-point improvement over last year's last-place campaign.

While Toronto's seven rookies have earned a lot of the attention in the early going for driving that rise, Kadri has been a big part of the success too. During the recent streak, he has eaten the toughest minutes – against Connor McDavid, Ryan O'Reilly and the Sedins with Edmonton, Buffalo and Vancouver – scored three goals and been a plus player.

On the year, Kadri has been a strong possession player (53 per cent) and on the right side of the scoring-chance count at even strength (67-64), despite starting many of his shifts in the defensive zone.

Coach Mike Babcock believes that shutdown role suits Kadri. "It appears when he has a job, he's better and more focused," Babcock said.

It also frees up rookies Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner to face weaker players and pile up points, which they have had no trouble doing.

"Definitely," Matthews said. "I mean everybody – especially in that game [against McDavid last week] – was so focused on him. We wanted that matchup. Naz did an unbelievable job and ended up scoring two goals."

And being a bit of a pest to the game's best comes naturally.

Story continues below advertisement

"I enjoy the challenge," Kadri said. "Obviously I'm a pretty competitive person so I don't want to come out of the wrong end of that matchup. So I'm going to do everything I can to do my job and help the team win."

It's early, but Kadri is on pace for a career year. He's tracking to better 60 points without an offensive dynamo on his line, playing mostly with Leo Komarov, Connor Brown and current Marlie Milan Michalek.

This wasn't really what anyone expected when Kadri was drafted seventh over all seven years ago, when he became one of only two top-10 Leafs picks in a prospect-bereft 13-year stretch for the franchise (the other being Luke Schenn).

At first, Kadri underwhelmed because he was deemed too small. Then coaches took issue with his attitude and defensive play. He never seemed a particularly good skater or shooter or to possess any of the elements that would make him a star. Without many saviours to turn to and the Leafs struggling, Kadri seemed destined to disappoint in Toronto.

Under Babcock, however, the role he plays and the narrative around him has shifted. In April, the Leafs made a six-year commitment on a new contract. Instead of disappointing, he is excelling – even if he never becomes one of the league's leading scorers.

The growth in Kadri's game has come in stages. It took years for him to get stronger, to the point now where he is noticeably solid – a legitimate 195 pounds. It took years for him to find focus, something that led to a suspension for a partying problem in March, 2015.

Story continues below advertisement

Now, he has become something of a been-through-everything role model for the Leafs kids, who are watching what he does and learning. For example, Matthews said recently that what he admires most is Kadri's passion to play every night.

According to James van Riemsdyk, Kadri's frequent linemate last year, what allows him to exasperate stars like McDavid is something different.

"It's because he's so strong on the puck," van Riemsdyk explained. "When you have the puck more, it frustrates the top-end players on the other team. That's what makes him so effective in that role.

"Strong on the puck is all about your edges. You can be little and strong on the puck. You look at other guys around the league like Pat Kane, Johnny Gaudreau – they're all strong on the puck just because their edges are so good. Naz is another guy in that category. He can make plays in tight areas and get himself out of tough position just because he's so good on his edges."

That's what makes him a good possession player and that makes him a match for Babcock's push-the-puck system, which has propelled the Leafs to seventh in the NHL (53.2 per cent) in that key category.

Babcock said he has been happy with what he has seen in Kadri, which has been a rarity for Leafs coaches. But he also sees a next level, and he sees a 26-year-old player committed to getting there.

Story continues below advertisement

"He's got a lot of growth and development yet in front of him," Babcock said. "He's getting better."

Seven years in, Kadri has become a unique piece that finally fits with what the Leafs are building.

"I'm not here just to kind of be a role player," he said. "I want to help this team win and I want to do everything I can to help these guys win and help the young kids."

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies