His face features a cut high on the left side of his cheek and his hand is aching thanks to a blocked shot and yet Nazem Kadri has never felt better at a Toronto Maple Leafs training camp.
That's because for the first time he isn't trying to make the team; he's getting ready for the NHL season. Kadri is on the team. After finishing second in club scoring last season, training camp is no longer life and death.
"It's a lot more satisfying," Kadri said. "You realize you have to fight for your spot and show the coaching staff you have gotten better during the summer, but it is a good feeling to know a spot is reserved for you and it's your spot to lose.
"Each and every day you could get a pat on the back telling you you've been sent down. It's a nice feeling to not have to worry about that and just focus on what I have to do on the ice."
Kadri's new fight, now that he is a bona fide NHLer, is for the No. 1 centre job. It seems to be a two-horse race between Kadri and Tyler Bozak.
"That's a good problem to have," Kadri said.
The Maple Leafs first round pick in 2009, Kadri scored 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games last season. Unlike a lot of high draft picks, Kadri was not handed a job with the Maple Leafs. He was asked to pay his dues in the minors and, even if he hated it at times, he admitted it was a good learning process. Stronger defensively
Where he was once a one dimensional player who only thought about offence, he has become a much safer player in his own zone and his plus-15 last season is a good testament to his improved two-way play.
"At the time I was pretty mad, to be honest," Kadri said about his demotion to the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies. "I didn't really understand why I was being sent down. I felt like I could make a contribution to the team right away, but that was their decision. I didn't whine about it; I just went down and kept working hard to fix whatever they wanted me to fix.
"I learned a lot about puck management and recognizing danger. In junior, because my talent level was pretty high, I could get away with a lot of things that you can't get away with here. It was a learning process for me and I know a lot of people probably counted me out after a few years, but I found my way here by working hard."
Kadri scored a goal in Toronto's 3-2 win over the Senators in Ottawa Thursday, but left the game with a sore hand. He was back on the ice Friday morning at MasterCard Centre in Etobicoke, Ont., practicing with the Leafs.
"I blocked a shot by opening up the palm of my hand," Kadri said. "It's brutal. I was so mad at myself after the period. It's just an instinct play. I put my hand out just to get a piece of the shot and ended up blocking it. As it hit my whole hand went dead. That is never a fun feeling.
"When that happens you think the worst and I was a little nervous heading into the locker room. We took an x-ray and everything was negative. It feels a lot better today. It's just a little sore."Target
Regardless of whom he winds up playing with, Kadri will be one of the players the Maple Leafs count on for offence this season. That means he'll attract a lot of attention from the opposition. In Ottawa, Kadri got bumped and was nicely into a shoving match when new Leaf David Clarkson arrived on the scene to flex his muscles.
Kadri appreciated the help.
"He's definitely a team guy and has everyone's back if needed," Kadri said. "He's a strong guy and knows how to be in those situations probably a lot more than some of the guys on this team, so that's an addition and an upgrade that we didn't have last year."
Clarkson played with some high-level NHLers in New Jersey, the likes of Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, so he knows a thing or two about recognizing talent. He likes what he sees in Kadri.
"You know what, he's smart with the puck and makes plays," Clarkson said. "He does to the areas where he can beat a guy 1-on-1. I think I can open up the ice for him."
Kadri signed a new contract with the Maple Leafs the night before training camp opened that pays him $2.9 million US per year for two seasons. He watched with interest Thursday at Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who had four goals in 40 games last season, signed a whopping seven-year, $42 million deal.
"I was thinking about that," Kadri said with a laugh. "I guess they don't believe in bridge contracts."EQUIPMENT WOES
New Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier left the game in Ottawa after the first period because his leg was irritated by some new equipment he was wearing. He is not expected to be out longer than one day.
"He had an irritation on his knee from some new equipment that he is wearing part and parcel to the equipment change," coach Randy Carlyle said. "The kneepads are new and they irritated the top of his knee cap. I really haven't got an explanation on how and why it happened."IT'S IN THE EYES
At six-foot-one and 200 pounds, David Clarkson isn't as big as many of the enforcers he engages during the course of an NHL season. So what gives him an edge when things turn nasty?
It's the crazy look in his eyes. Clarkson, much like Darcy Tucker before him in Toronto, gets a look in his eyes that must make his opponent wonder if he's all there.
"People ask me about the look," Clarkson said. "It's just a reaction. I'm just trying to scare them."MAKING A STRONG CASE
With two goals and three points in two pre-season games, Mason Raymond is making a strong case for the Maple Leafs to sign him. The speedy left-winger is in camp on a pro tryout after scoring 10 goals and 22 points in 46 games with the Vancouver Canucks last season.
The beauty of the situation from the Maple Leafs' standpoint is they have a motivated player who is not only trying to earn a contract for this season, but an even longer deal that extends beyond 2013-14.
"You have to be motivated," Raymond said. "Money is secondary to me now; it's about playing well. I think the rest of things will fall into place and take care of themselves. Sure it's motivation; no doubt. You're playing for your life out here."
Raymond broke his back during the Stanley Cup playoffs two years ago and is trying to get back to the form that allowed him to score 25 goals and 53 points in 82 games in 2009-10.CHANGE OF PACE
When the Maple Leafs took to the ice Friday morning, the left-handed shooters were shooting right and the right-handed shooters were shooting left.
Carlyle said he simply wanted to inject a little fun into the daily grind of practice.
"It has been push, push, push here so there's nothing wrong with seeing 25 or so guys smiling while playing a little shinny," he said.
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