Babcock expects Kadri to be ‘an elite player’

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Expectations for Nazem Kadri have always been high. When you’re a seventh overall draft pick, that’s going to be the case.

But with Phil Kessel gone and Tyler Bozak potentially out the door next, new coach Mike Babcock expects the 24-year-old Maple Leafs center — armed with a one-year, prove-it contract —  to take his game to another level next season.

“I expect him to be an elite player,” Babcock said of Kadri, per the Toronto Star.

“He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us. Why wouldn’t he? If I’m him, I’m going to have the best year of my career because I’m training the way I should and living the way I should, then why wouldn’t I have a short-term deal?”

Kadri finished 2014-15 with 18 goals and 21 assists in 73 games. While those numbers don’t exactly scream “elite player,” it should be noted he played mostly with Daniel Winnik and Mike Santorelli.

With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see if Babcock gives Kadri more time with James van Riemsdyk, who skated almost exclusively with Kessel and Bozak on Toronto’s much-maligned first line.

Related: Leafs sign Matthias — one year, $2.3 million