Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Someone Better Than JVR

With Randy Carlyle setting Leafs Nation afire with his chatter of moving James van Riemsdyk from the wing to center, it occurred to me that there is a player who not only deserved a shot to play down the middle last season, but he should be a given to plug a center ice spot on the Leafs roster next season. I'm not sure if Brian Burke has something against Nazem Kadri, but the kid was one of the best Leafs over the last two seasons when he was in the lineup, and then went and helped the Toronto Marlies advance to the AHL Calder Cup Final. So why isn't Kadri being given a shot at the center ice position?

According to Randy Carlyle, he wants a bigger centerman in his top-six forwards. He capitalized on Ryan Getzlaf's success with Anaheim, so it appears that Carlyle wants to have the same setup with the Leafs.

"He's a big man and we're going to try him playing in the middle for us," Carlyle told The Sun on Thursday. "It's always nice to have a 6-foot-plus centre in your top six. We feel there is an opportunity to explore him at centre."

Make no mistake that van Riemsdyk is a good power forward. He came into his own late in the season and in the playoffs as he used his big body to outmuscle the smaller Penguins' defencemen to score a pile of goals. While he still has some growing to do to fill out his large frame, JVR is going to be a very difficult man to move when he stands in front of the net.

However, you need a centerman to be able to do the basics: win face-offs, distribute the puck, and spark the transition game. I'm not so sure that van Riemsdyk is the player who can pull off these tasks. Having watched Nazem Kadri in the AHL Playoffs, though, the Leafs have a ready-and-waiting player on the farm who would fit the mold well, and can be part of the youth movement that seems to be happening in Toronto. Kadri doesn't have JVR's size, but he's the prototypical pass-first centerman that can really spark a good winger.

James van Riemsdyk has never been known as a gifted passer, but he can dish when necessary. He has great hands and good balance, and can be a presence in front of the net. The biggest problem? JVR has only taken ten face-offs in the last two seasons, and he's won a whopping 20% of those face-offs. Those kinds of numbers will kill you in the defensive zone, and it's a huge liability in the offensive zone when you need a face-off win.

Kadri isn't the best face-off guy yet, but he'll learn quickly in the NHL. He was decent in the AHL this season, but, more importantly, he pursues the puck if he loses the face-off. Kadri has good vision in anticipating passes as well, and he showed some impressive larceny in picking off passes in the AHL Playoffs. Kadri's skating has shown improvement, and he was effective in turning the puck up ice when he got the chance in transition. In short, Kadri is turning into a very good centerman who deserves his shot in the NHL sooner rather than later.

So why not pair the two together? Line Kadri up down the middle, and allow him to distribute to van Riemsdyk who seems to enjoy going to the net. This seems almost elementary to me if it weren't for Carlyle trying to make JVR into something he's not. If the Leafs continue to keep Kadri with the Marlies, he will most certainly jump to a different team when the opportunity arises. I can't see him being content in the AHL next season, so why not give the kid a shot at playing center alongside James van Riemsdyk?

I can't understand why Nazem Kadri continues to overlooked by the Leafs. He's a solid player who is very sound defensively, and Marlies coach Dallas Eakins relied on him down the stretch last season in the AHL. If I were Randy Carlyle, I'd be looking at Kadri to help James van Riemsdyk hit new heights in goals and points. In doing so, he could be helping both players become much better players in the long run.

While I'd never suggest that Carlyle and Burke have no clue what they are doing, I can't see any reason why they wouldn't use Nazem Kadri to help down the middle. Especially when they have an excellent power forward who just needs someone to distribute the puck to him on the fly.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Peter Santellan said...

You basically said it as to why JVR over Kadri: size. Both still need to fill out, but Van Riemsdyk has a height advantage, something that Kadri is only average at. When you look at great centermen in the last, oh, 20 years or so, Gretzky, Sakic, Yzerman, and Toews, to name a few, aren't exactly hulking players. Three of those players are or will be in the Hall of Fame by November and the fourth is on his way at the current rate he's going.

As to why Kadri hasn't cracked the lineup, I don't believe Burke was GM when he was drafted, which may or may not explain a lot.

Unknown said...

I think its ridiculous this kid is still in the minors. He's always doing something when he's up... instead of giving him confidence and letting him learn through his mistakes, he keeps getting sent down while the team flounders. Kadri is a tremendous offensive talent who has to be given his shot; otherwise the Leafs will make the same mistake Montreal canadiens made with Mike Ribeiro.