Leafs need Kadri to take another step

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The optimists will say Nazem Kadri finally proved he belonged in the NHL last year. They’ll point out the 18 goals and 26 assists he scored in 48 games, his 44 points ranking him second on the Maple Leafs behind Phil Kessel’s 52. And they’ll conclude that former general manager Brian Burke was wise to make Kadri the seventh overall pick in 2009.

The skeptics, on the other hand, won’t be so sure. They’ll note that Kadri’s shooting percentage of 16.8 percent was abnormally high compared to the league average. They’ll say he was lucky. And they’ll argue the 22-year-old will be hard-pressed to match last year’s rate of production in 2013-14.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? At this point, who knows?

But this is what happens to high draft picks in hockey-mad markets like Toronto. Everything they achieve, or fail to achieve — right down to the appropriate percentage of body fat — is pored over by fans and media.

“It was tough on me for a little bit,” Kadri admitted in February, per the Globe and Mail. “I really don’t think a lot of other people could have been under the scrutiny and under the pressure and have that mental toughness to prevail.”

Plenty of scrutiny and pressure remains in his future though. Early speculation has him centering a line between Joffrey Lupul and David Clarkson, a pair of wingers to which the club has committed a total of $63 million in new contracts. It’s a great opportunity for Kadri, but like they say, to whom much is given, much is expected.

First things first — Kadri, a restricted free agent, needs a new contract for himself.

“We’re in conversation and there’s still some work to be done, but we’re talking and that’s the most important thing,” he said on July 12.

Chances are, a deal will be struck in time for training camp. But getting that done will be the easy part. The hard part will be proving the skeptics wrong.

More Leafs day on PHT:

Bozak, Clarkson contracts were big gambles for Nonis

Reimer vs Bernier — Who ya got?