TORONTO – Nazem Kadri knows he’s on thin ice at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ training camp, but the rookie centre isn’t letting harsh criticism from general manager Brian Burke rattle him.
“You can’t just melt when someone criticizes you,” Kadri said Monday at practice. “That’s not the way to be, that’s not being mentally tough. I think growing up, that’s something that was (instilled) in me very early in my career. Mental toughness.”
During a conference call Sunday evening, Burke said time was running out for the youngster to prove he belongs with the big team.
“When I get harped on, it really doesn’t affect me,” said the 19-year-old first-round draft pick. “If anything, it motivates me more.”
Kadri was not slated to be in the lineup for Toronto’s pre-season game Monday against Buffalo and was put through a hard practice along with the other scratches.
“It was a pretty tough one,” said Kadri. “Now I get what guys not playing go through.”
It’s an unfamiliar position for Kadri, who has been in the spotlight during Leafs training camp because of his struggles in the pre-season. Once “pencilled” into the Leafs regular season lineup by Wilson, it now appears as though he’ll start the year in the American Hockey League.
Fellow centre John Mitchell is also under the gun. The 25-year-old has spent the past two seasons with the Leafs but has failed to assert himself during training camp. He remains without a point in three exhibition games.
The main beneficiary so far appears to be Tim Brent, a journeyman with 300 AHL games on his resume compared with just 19 in the NHL.
As it stands now, he appears to have the inside track on starting the season as the third-line centre. Brent lists his strengths as penalty killing, faceoffs and responsible play away from the puck.
“Small things that sometimes end up being a big part of the hockey game,” he said.
There seemed to be a more intense feeling around the team after the latest round of cuts. With only four exhibition games to play, the battle for final spots is coming into focus.
Coach Ron Wilson planned to dress his top players Monday, shedding some light on where things stand heading into the final week of pre-season play.
“Pretty much our lineup as I see it is going tonight,” said Wilson.
The only exceptions were goaltender James Reimer, who was slated to dress as Jonas Gustavsson’s backup rather than Jean-Sebastien Giguere, and winger Fredrik Sjostrom, who is making his return from a shoulder injury later this week.
The Leafs are down to 30 players in training camp after a big round of cuts Sunday.
Brent admitted to being nervous heading into the weekend and said he spent some time with family to try and take his mind off things. He was happy to see a group of reporters around his locker-room stall on Monday morning.
“Still here,” said Brent. “It feels great. I’ve kind of just tried to go about my business and try and show that this is where I belong.”
Another player who was relieved to make it through is Luca Caputi. The winger has bounced between the AHL and NHL the past two seasons and was pleased not to be called in for a conversation with the Leafs brass.
It’s never a pleasant experience.
“They grab you when you come in in the morning,” Caputi said of what happens when a player is cut. “It’ll be the coach, GM, assistant GM, VP, everybody’s in there. They just tell you that you had a good camp or you didn’t have a good camp, the reason for you going down. …
“I was able to dodge them yesterday. Hopefully I dodge them one more time.”
The Leafs have to be down to their 23-man roster by 3 p.m. ET on Oct. 6—the day before they open the regular season at home to the Montreal Canadiens.