TORONTO – The tryout continues for Nazem Kadri.
Despite being elevated to Toronto’s top line for Tuesday’s game against Tampa Bay, the Maple Leafs rookie centre doesn’t feel like his place in the NHL is secure just yet. The game will be Kadri’s eighth with the big team this season so the American Hockey League still doesn’t feel too far away.
“I feel a lot more comfortable now, but that still doesn’t erase my chances of getting sent down,” Kadri said Tuesday. “It’s a pretty permanent tryout for me here. Hopefully, I can get some games under my belt, put up some offence and just play as best as I can.”
He doesn’t have to look very far to find examples of how little security comes with the job.
The Maple Leafs dressing room is full of players that he’s called teammates in both the NHL and AHL this season. With forward Joey Crabb getting recalled Tuesday, there are already eight players who have been with both teams in the first two months of the season.
A lot of the shuffling has been done in an effort to coax more offence from a team that was shut out in five of 18 games heading into the matchup with the Lightning.
Kadri will be expected to produce while getting big minutes between Phil Kessel and Clarke MacArthur. He had four assists in his first seven games of the season to go with a number of near-misses on prime opportunities.
“I’ve had two, three, four scoring chances a game,” said Kadri. “Usually, I capatilize on those things. I guess I’ve got to catch up to the pace of scoring at this level. I think the chances are there, I’ve just got to put them in the back of the net.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson tried to downplay the significance of Kadri being moved to centre on the team’s top line. If anything, it demonstrates just how desperate the situation is in Toronto.
While with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, the 20-year-old was moved to the wing in an effort to help ease his transition to the pro game.
GM Brian Burke acknowledged he was bringing Kadri up ahead of schedule when the 2009 first-round pick was recalled on Nov. 12. After just seven games, the organization is moving him back to the middle, where he’ll have more defensive responsibility.
“Every night in this league is a test,” said Wilson. “It’s not particularly the biggest test he’ll ever face in his life tonight. We can’t exaggerate all these things.
“I’m sure he can get the job done. I’m confident he can.”