Kid Kadri looks to crack the Leafs lineup this season

Up until this point, the most memorable part of Nazem Kadri’s career is when Leafs GM Brian Burke asked Senators GM Bryan Murray who he was going to take in the 2009 Entry Draft—only to shoot him down on national television. He hopes to change all that this season as he aims to put his best foot forward during Toronto’s training camp this month. There aren’t many spots up for grabs this season after the Leafs acquired the likes of Matthew Lombardi and Tim Connolly this offseason. Kadri knows that he’ll need to step up his game if he wants to impress management and earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster this year.

The 20-year-old forward appeared in 29 total games for the Leafs last season. He played in 17 games in November/December before he was sent down to the Toronto Marlies to refine his game—due in large part because he only collected two assists in the final month before demoted. The former seventh overall pick played better when management brought him up for another look in mid-March. He collected three goals and three assists in 12 games to finish the 2010-11 campaign. The cup of coffee with the big club gave him all the motivation he needed for the offseason:

“I’m coming in expecting there to be zero jobs left and for me to steal one,” Kadri said. “Obviously (to get demoted) would be extremely disappointing. I want to be a regular 82-plus-playoff games player in the NHL. That’s why I worked so hard this summer — to prove a point.

“Now I what to show everybody that I’m here to stay.”

It’s good that Kadri is coming into camp with a certain sense of desperation because management isn’t messing around this week. The team is bringing in about 70 players—but most of them better not get too comfortable. Ron Wilson told QMI that the cuts are going to come fast and furious for the first week as the trim the roster to a manageable number:

“What I’ve stressed with management, when Wednesday rolls around, we’re going to be down to 40 guys,” Wilson said Friday at the MasterCard Centre where the team reported for physical testing. “By next weekend, we’ll be down to 26 or 27 players.

“I’m cutting right through all the B.S., and getting right down to the NHL players. I’m not worried about where we are going to be in two or three years. My primary responsibility is this year and getting off to a quick start.”

No pressure there. Have a bad day and you could be gone. Then again, for anyone who’s going to play a full season in Toronto, they should get used to that kind of daily scrutiny. Rumor has it the Toronto media judges swiftly and harshly.

As far as Kadri goes, a spot on the Leafs should be his to lose. The left wing spot on the 3rd line is waiting to be claimed and Kadri’s speed would be a welcomed asset in any capacity. But just as important as his skill set is the way he is viewed by management. There’s no question they want the high draft pick to make the team and succeed. The Leafs prospect pool has been improving over the last couple of season and Kadri is the best of the lot.

If he can prove that he belongs on the team, it will look good for the rest of their mini-redevelopment project.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.

Report: Ilya Kovalchuk wants to return to NHL (with Devils or not)

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The Montreal Canadiens fell short against the New York Rangers, but the series put the spotlight on Alex Radulov‘s great return to the NHL. What if an even bigger name came back from the KHL next season?

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reports that Ilya Kovalchuk wants to come back to the NHL, whether it be with the New Jersey Devils or someone else.

It’s a tantalizing thought for the Devils: either add a big star or gain a nice set of assets for a team that might be a little more prepared to make the most of the 34-year-old’s skills right off the bat.

With big-name free agents rarely becoming UFAs these days, the market could always use some juice. Even at an advanced age, Kovalchuk provides that as one of the deadliest snipers of his era.

Kovalchuk had a fantastic year in the KHL, scoring 32 goals and 78 points in 60 games. He last played in the NHL with the Devils in 2012-13, collecting 11 goals and 31 points in 37 games.