A New Leaf?

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Before this season began, the hockey world largely perceived Nazem Kadri as an underwhelming performer. It was a harsh label, but nonetheless deserved.

Kadri finished 124th in league scoring last season with just 17 goals and 28 assists in 76 games for a very bad Maple Leafs team — not exactly the numbers expected from a former seventh overall pick. Instead of evolving into a quality forward, he often looked lost and overwhelmed, snake-bitten and frustrated.

Eventually, the question progressed from “when will he put it all together?” to “will he ever put it all together?”

Those who were optimistic about Kadri’s abilities were quick to cite his performance in the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, when he earned 18 goals, 44 points and an impressive +15 rating in 48 contests. But even then there were red flags, including an unsustainable shooting percentage (16.8) that he has yet to eclipse.

Yes, we had many reasons to be pessimistic about his short and long-term prospects, and the evidence that he was capable of developing into a consistent, productive option was flimsy at best. Many, including myself, were prepared to write him off as a bust.

Suffice it to say, he’s making us skeptics look like fools.

Under Mike Babcock, whose aggressive, offensive-minded system caters to Kadri’s skill set, the 26-year-old has been a welcomed surprise thus far in a regular season that has eight games to go. He’s tallied 30 goals and 25 assists in 74 games, good for second and eighth on the Buds, respectively.

And, contrary to 2012-13, Kadri is thriving with a maintainable shooting percentage (13.8) and a cool 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 9.41, more than double last season’s total of 4.55. He appears to be a new man, one who’s living up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him at the 2009 Draft.

Now the question is, “what’s changed?”

Some will tell you that a deeper look into his analytics is the key to his rise in play. That his Corsi is this or his Fenwick is that, but for me it boils down to two things: maturity and stability.

Maturity in the sense that the days are gone of his receiving team-imposed suspensions, as was the case in 2015 when a missed team meeting led to a suspension that ultimately lasted four games. And stability – the kind that comes with a long-term contract – blossoms with a coach that has defined his role.

Babcock will always receive a lot of accolades for what he has been able to do with this club, but in the end, it’s the players that need to follow through on his teachings.

It’s been said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks… You can if there is a willingness to change.

For Nazem Kadri; he’s showing the league this season that he’s got some new tricks up his sleeve.

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