In what could be the biggest off-season of Nazem Kadri’s career, the 24-year-old pivot isn’t holding back, dedicating himself to his training and looking to go to Maple Leafs training camp in the best shape of his career. And after a clip of an explosive box jump, Kadri’s making believers out of those who question his off-ice commitment.
It was the box jump heard ‘round Leafs Nation: Nazem Kadri, on one foot, leaping from the ground to the top of a 31-inch platform, posted to Instagram for the world to see.
After years of questions about his physical conditioning and an up-and-down 2014-15 season, Kadri is out to prove that he can be a star in the NHL. No one has ever doubted his on-ice ability, but off-ice there has been some concern. That said, there will be considerably fewer concerns after watching Kadri hop to the top of a 2.5-foot-plus box with one leg.
And that’s the Kadri the Toronto Maple Leafs want to see, the one putting in the work this summer to become a true, first-line center in the NHL. In order to become that, Kadri has enlisted in the help of Spero Mantzavrakos, a veteran trainer that has worked with the likes of Corey Perry and Jeff Carter. And Mantzavrakos said we’re about to see a new Nazem Kadri.
“We’re talking about someone who was squatting maybe a little more than 250 pounds before and he’s already squatting about 345 pounds at this point,” Mantzavrakos said. “His hip mobility has increased big time, and his jumping power – it was a little more than 31 inches and it was a countermovement jump. That was really impressive. Those things have gone up drastically.”
And they’ve gone up so drastically because, Mantzavrakos said, Kadri has dedicated himself completely to becoming the best athlete he can be. For the past six weeks, Kadri has been training at Next Level Training in London, Ont., and the past three weeks have been one-on-one between Kadri and Mantzavrakos. Five days a week, sometimes twice a day, they’re working on taking Kadri’s game to the next level.
“I think he’s in the best physical shape of his career at this point, and it’s still early,” Mantzavrakos said. “Nazem’s a highly skilled player and he’s always worked. I want to set the record straight with that. But what he’s done now is he has basically taken a more aggressive approach to (his fitness) and he’s dedicating his life to it. He sees the importance, he sees where he’s at in his career and he really wants to add some more speed and mobility to his game.”
The off-season in hockey has grown increasingly short over the years, but Kadri, for better or worse, has the benefit of an extended summer due to the Maple Leafs missing the post-season. Kadri had originally planned to be back in Toronto in late August, Mantzavrakos said, but it could be September, closer to training camp, before Kadri is back home.
When Kadri gets to camp, Mantzavrakos hopes the Maple Leafs’ staff and fans will see the strides the 24-year-old pivot has made. Kadri hopes to come back to Toronto at around 195 pounds – he’s currently around 188 to 190 pounds, Mantzavrakos said – and have the best mix of speed, power and endurance of his career.
“(Everyone will see) a lot more consistency come second, third periods and mid-season and on. That’s the key,” Mantzavrakos said. “The thing for Nazem is that he’s going to be in such better shape now that he’ll just be able to keep going. I think he’s going to log more minutes and he’s going to be able to recover quicker between games.”
That’s exactly what the Maple Leafs are hoping for, too. With Phil Kessel jettisoned to Pittsburgh, Tyler Bozak’s future uncertain and the entire franchise in a turnover period that could see them at the bottom of the standings for the second consecutive season, Kadri could be the next face of the Maple Leafs. Toronto gave Kadri a one-year, $4.1 million contract that is the ultimate show-me deal. If he performs in 2015-16, Toronto will open up the checkbook and sign Kadri to a long-term deal, of that there is little doubt.
Judging by the effort he’s seen, Mantzavrakos would bet on this upcoming year being a big one for Kadri. And he thinks Leafs Nation is about to see a side of Kadri they have been hoping for since he was drafted seventh overall in 2009.
“This guy, he has a compete to him that you’ve never seen,” Mantzavrakos said. “He’s a young fella, he’s just learning this stuff is really important to move on and become the best he can become. And he’s putting in 100 percent effort all the time.”