On a hot, sweltering Toronto afternoon, I meet up with the Leafs 2009 top pick Nazem Kadri. This was the 2nd time I have met the young budding star and to say I was surprised is putting it mildly. The first time I met Nazem was September 2009, a scrawny young kid listed at 170lbs. I doubted he'd tip 165 in a wet suit when I first met him. This time around I was blown away. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was just the excitement of seeing this rising young star again at the beginning of his career. He had obviously started to fill out, and the results of all his hard work at the gym were more than evident. I bit my lip and thought to myself "Oh to be 19 again". What was once scrawny was now filled out and buff. Muscles rippled, pecs stood out, the face of the young lad had started to turn into that of a man. He sensed my shock when I saw him and greeted him.
"Wow", I say. "You're not how I remember"
Kadri giggles nervously and replies "Yeah, it's taken a lot of hard work".
I must have stared a moment too long because he seems to get nervous just then and suggests we move on and get the interview under way. I forget he's still a boy even though he's looking more and more like a man. I offer to buy him a smoothie from the Papaya Hut in downtown Toronto but he tells me he's on a strict diet. I grab my smoothie, and we leisurely stroll down Yonge St. and discuss his potential to make the Leafs this season.
Kadri is realistic about his chances this upcoming season and knows he has a tremendous opportunity if he works hard. He tells me it's been his dream since he was a kid to make the NHL and the opportunity presented by the Leafs is one he doesn't want to miss out on.
"We have a young core of players here in Toronto, the youngest in the league, I just hope I can show enough at camp to stick with the big club". Kadri has been penciled into the Leafs lineup by many observers but he knows it won't be that easy. "Last season was tough. I really thought I could stick in the NHL, but I realized later on that I still had a ways to go. I set out to improve myself and my game in hopes of making it this season"
The willingness and the ability to improve are two strong traits in this young man. After a slow start to the OHL season, Kadri picked up the pace to finish with 93 points in only 56 games and was named as a finalist for OHL player of the year. He continuted his strong play into the playoffs where he netted an incredible 27 points in only 12 games. These are stats that should get any Leafs fan excited about this young man's potential.
We briefly chat about his muslim upbringing and how he is being viewed as a potential role model in the league, a barrier smasher so to speak.
"I don't think about that stuff", replies Kadri, "I'm just me, I try to be the best I can be, if I inspire any other kids that's great, but I don't see myself as anything special in that regard".
I tell him he IS special, and he nervously accepts my compliment.
As we end the interview, I watch him walk away from me, I gaze and think about the future of this young star, this mere boy who is now filling out a man's body. The heat from the afternoon has coated Kadri's shirt in sweat, and I can easily make out the physique under his shirt. I still can't believe how much he's filled out, and I have to finally turn away as I bite my lip again.
I can't see into the future, but I predict great things for Kadri. Leafs fans should prepare themselves for success, with Kadri on a young Leafs team, the future is oh so bright.