Should the Maple Leafs be more patient with prospect Nazem Kadri?

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nazemkadriunderpressure.jpgPressure can bring out the best in an athlete, but it can also be a very negative thing too. Especially for a young player still trying to learn how to adjust to all of the challenges that come with making the jump to the professional level.

You cannot find a bigger pressure cooker for a young hockey player than Toronto. The team has been an absolute mess since the lockout and haven’t had much young star power to cling to. (Just look at how Luke Schenn is going from an overly praised talent to someone who is starting to drop out of favor among the Maple Leafs.)

This explains all of the hysteria regarding 2009 first round draft pick Nazem Kadri’s tough times. Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun points out that Kadri was demoted from a line alongside NHL-level additions Colby Armstrong and Kris Versteeg to a combination of minor league-level players. He adds this very troubling quote from Leafs coach Ron Wilson and makes a hypothesis about Kadri’s struggles.

With Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Christian Hanson and John Mitchell all in the fight for centre spots, Kadri has been less effective than all of hem.

“He needs to realize the battle he’s in,” Wilson said after the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

“We’re not giving him the job. He has to outperform at least two or three of those four to earn a spot.”

[snip]

The KADRI QUANDARY

So what gives with the player that looked so offensively gifted a year ago? No fire. No flash. No fury. Kadri is clearly playing tentatively, which stifles his offensive skill. Case in point: On a first-period two-on-one, rather than taking a clear open shot, Kadri dished off to Versteeg with a telegraph pass that was far too late … Wilson has no choice but to look at options now. Versteeg has been flying in both of his pre-season games and can no longer be held back. Armstrong, meanwhile, is as advertised — a guy who will go in the corner and get the puck and needs to have a useful centre. To that end, changes are coming, starting with Friday’s return match with the Flyers. For one game anyway, Versteeg is likely to move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel while Nikolai Kulemin shifts to a unit with Grabovski and Clarke MacArthur … For most of the third period, Tim Brent replaced Kadri between Armstrong and Versteeg … Wilson on Kadri’s better play in the third: “Maybe when I didn’t have him on (that line), it lit a fire under his rear end and he realized I’m serious and I’m not going to wait for him to get going.” … Naz on Naz: “By all means I haven’t made the team yet. I’m not expecting anyone to just give me the silver spoon and just hand me a job.”

While many people are growing quite pessimistic about Kadri, noted Edmonton Oilers blogger Lowetide turns the tables and critiques the Maple Leafs for their impatience with young prospects.

I think Kadri will be a good player. He’s gritty, clearly has skill and could develop into a quality 2-way player. But not with Toronto. They get so damn impatient with these kids. It’s pretty fricking strange that they can’t figure it out, but there it is in all its glory. In the next 5 years, we’ll see Kadri struggle, get sent down and sent away for less than 100 cents on the dollar. Look at Luke Schenn, failing down the depth chart and perhaps one summer from being flushed. Rask, Steen, Colaiacovo, Boyes and on it goes.

Ouch, I imagine Leafs fans squirm any time they read the name “Tuukka Rask.” Then again, sometimes you need to learn the hard way, so perhaps Brian Burke and Wilson should take caution with a player who might just need a little breathing room and seasoning in the minors.

The problem is that patience isn’t found in large quantities when it comes to the Leafs.

This fight between Tom Wilson, Chris Stewart got downright gory (Video)

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For those who decry the decline in fighting – in “blood and guts” hockey – Tuesday presented a bloody moment, one fairly high on this season’s Muta scale.

Also, for some, seeing it happen to Tom Wilson specifically may provide additional pleasure.

Anyway, as you can see in the video above, Minnesota Wild winger Chris Stewart bloodied the Washington Capitals pest in a fight. Whether you’re for, against or neutral toward Wilson, it’s quite the sight.

Wilson may be hurt, by the way. He missed some time but returned later in the contest.

Milestones: Matthews, Nylander break Leafs rookie records; Chara hits 600

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Auston Matthews likely ranks as the top reason that many Toronto Maple Leafs are starting to get the same feelings they had in better times, so it only makes sense that he broke a beloved Buds’ record on Tuesday.

With his 35th goal of a potential Calder season – but a brilliant debut either way – Matthews passed Wendel Clark for the Maple Leafs’ rookie record for goals in a season.

That goal was also meaningful for William Nylander, as he extended his point streak to 12 games with an assist. This team, fueled by young players, just keeps shattering first-year marks:

Switching gears, let’s go from new to (relatively) old: Zdeno Chara collected the 600th point of his outstanding career with an assist:

Yes, it’s true that most people think of his imposing size and all-world defensive instincts in praising Chara, but he’s been a respectable point producer, too.

U.S. women end boycott, will represent USA Hockey at worlds

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The U.S. women’s national team voted in favor of accepting USA Hockey’s deal, so they’ll participate in the world championship tournament. USA Hockey recently made the news official with this press release.

The press release confirmed a report that the contract will last four years, while financial terms were kept confidential. (Team members had been seeking a living wage to represent USA Hockey.)

“Our sport is the big winner today,” Team captain Meghan Duggan said. “We stood up for what we thought was right and USA Hockey’s leadership listened. In the end, both sides came together. I’m proud of my teammates and can’t thank everyone who supported us enough. It’s time now to turn the page. We can’t wait to play in the World Championship later this week in front of our fans as we try and defend our gold medal.”

The U.S. women’s national team is scheduled to face Canada on Friday.

Here’s a screen cap of the press release for your convenience:

Logan Couture can at least speak and eat following horrifying mouth injury

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As much as many of us suffer during a trip to the dentist, few can fathom the horrors hockey players often go through when a puck, stick or fist finds their teeth/mouths. Consult this vintage PHT post from 2010 if you want to cringe, a lot.

Much like Eddie Lack “only” dealing with a neck sprain, it’s strange to be heartened to hear that Logan Couture can speak and eat after his own painful ordeal, but that’s the positive update from the Mercury News on Tuesday.

Couture, Wilson said, did not need to have his jaw wired shut after a deflected puck caught him in the mouth on Saturday when the Sharks played the Nashville Predators.

“Hey, he can speak and eat … and his jaw isn’t wired shut!” Yeesh.

To little surprise, Couture isn’t playing on Tuesday. As far as the Sharks next three games (Thursday, Friday and Sunday), that remains to be seen.

As an aside, consider this: on the same day Jonathan Drouin‘s celebrating his birthday after helping the Lightning win, Couture is lucky if he can force down some birthday cake. Life: it isn’t always fair.

PHT discussed his trip to the dentist on Monday.

More mouth pain: When David Backes felt like his face was falling off.