Kadri deserves shot on top line
Nazem Kadri has finally made his mark on the Toronto Maple Leafs.
With Randy Carlyle proclaiming he is “trying to get Kadri more ice-time,” it could be a matter of time before Tyler Bozak is slotted as the third-line centre with Kadri in-between Joffrey Lupul and Phil Kessel.
But let’s make one thing clear: Kadri is likely not a first-line centre. Is the potential there? Sure, but he’s probably more effective on the second-line. But alas, the Leafs have an abundance of holes to address, and a top line centre is one of them.
Unfortunately for general manager Dave Nonis, it’s not as simple going out into the trade market and grabbing one to heart’s content. It is therefore logical for the Leafs to address the issue internally, if only temporarily.
Tyler Bozak isn’t a bad player, but one would be mistaken to consider him a legitimate top-line threat. While he’s efficient in the face-off dots, he’s also not a puck-possession player, and his defensive play suffers for it. This issue is emphasized further when Lupul’s lack of defensive play is taken into account.
Although Kessel and Lupul have established chemistry together, the top line only has one player capable of holding onto the puck for more than a few seconds, which is Kessel.
Not only is Kadri’s talent-level higher than Bozak’s, but also he’s a capable puck-possession player and would add a new dimension to the top line. To say that Kessel and Lupul would benefit from more time in the offensive zone (and less in the defensive end) is a no-brainer. Unfortunately for Kessel, he currently plays with two players that consistently lack in possession statistics (Bozak ranked 11th in Corsi On last season, Lupul 18th).
While Lupul’s defensive play is dreadful, it’s worth noting that he works well with Kessel due to his willingness to go in the dirty areas. What the line can benefit from is a centre with, at the very least, defensive tendencies.
Kadri doesn’t exactly fit the bill, but his supposed defensive shortcomings can be exaggerated. Simply put, Kadri is a capable puck-possession player and he’ll sooner hold onto the puck and look for outlets than throw the puck into the opposition’s skates. Kadri’s Corsi Relative (on-ice Corsi minus off-ice Corsi) ranked second on the Leafs last season, only behind Mikhail Grabovski, albeit in only 21 games and the QoC (quality of competition) was against third-line talent, not top-tier. However, it's worth noting that Kadri, in his 53 NHL games thus far, can drive play. Can he do it efficiently as a top-line centre? It's a lot to ask, but the Leafs' options are currently limited.
Is it fair to throw Kadri into the fire as a number-one centre? Maybe not, but he’s now 22 years old and likely a better option than Bozak, who is a passenger on the top line.
If Carlyle is adamant on icing a defensively competent team, the first line needs to be addressed. Bozak isn’t the answer, and long-term Kadri probably isn’t either. But unless he’s willing to slot Grabovski on the first-line, which would also be a worthwhile experiment, Kadri deserves the opportunity.
They could also offer sheet Ryan O’Reilly, but let’s not go there.
*Statistics retrieved from www.behindthenet.ca*