For a few years now people have been harping about the Toronto Maple Leafs not having a true No. 1 centre.
has filled in very nicely on the top line, but he's probably better suited to the No. 2 or 3 slot.
So there was newly signed Nazem Kadri
on the first day of actual skating at training camp playing on a line during scrimmage with right-winger Phil Kessel. The 22-year-old Kadri
, who finished second in team scoring behind Kessel last season, did not look out of place on a line with the team's top gunner.
In fact being a top-line centre is something Kadri is working toward.
"We have depth and no matter where guys get slotted we're going to be able to get results, but being the No. 1 centre is something I have wanted from Day 1," Kadri said. "Since I started playing hockey I have always wanted to be a go-to guy for an NHL team. Hopefully I'm on my way."
Kadri played bits of three seasons with the Maple Leafs after being the team's first pick (seventh overall) in 2009 before finally cracking the lineup on a full-time basis last year. He played mostly well, but did fade a bit down the stretch.
To be fair, though, he rarely played on the first unit of the power play and if he gets that opportunity this year, he could become even more of an impact player. Coach Randy Carlyle isn't about to anoint Kadri, or anybody else for that matter, as the team's top centre.
"I think at the time there's too many things said about one, two, three, four, whatever," Carlyle said. "I think when I put offensive players together there is always the potential for people to play with one another. I'm not going to say one guy is this and one guy is that.
"Obviously Phil Kessel is one of our top offensive players and top goal-scorers so people would naturally assign the guy who plays with him the role of No. 1 centre, but I don't look at it that way at all."
Kadri believes he could form a chemistry with Kessel
. Kadri shoots left and Kessel shoots right so passes would naturally be sent in the direction of No. 81.
"Even after Bozie got hurt in the playoffs and I had to step up, I thought there was some chemistry," Kadri said. "Phil is not a hard guy to play with. He wants the puck all the time and so do I, but it seems like we find an equal balance. I think we both have the ability to pass and put the puck in the net."
Left-winger Joffrey Lupul missed the first day
of on-ice activity because of back spasms.
"He has had back issues before and we don't think it is anything long-term," coach Randy Carlyle said. "It's just precautionary measures to make sure he is 100 per cent."
Tough guy Colton Orr also missed the workout with a bone bruise in his leg.
THE GARDINER DID IT:
Last season was certainly what Jake Gardiner
expected coming off being named to the NHL's All-Rookie team the year before.
First, there was the lockout that prompted the Toronto Maple Leafs to send him to the American Hockey League's Marlies for more experience. Then, when NHL hockey returned, he was unable to crack the Maple Leafs lineup even though he scored seven goals and 30 points in 75 games with the Leafs in 2011-12.
"It was frustrating, but it was a learning experience and obviously I wasn't ready to be back at the NHL level." Gardiner said. "A lot of people saw that. It was nice to have a down in my career just to know what it's like and I'll try to never experience that again and just keep moving forward."
Gardiner said being sent down hammered away at his confidence, but he did his best to stay positive. He added the Leafs told him he had to be better defensively to get back to the NHL.
"I knew in the back of my mind I'd probably be back up again so it was just a matter of time so I had to keep working at it," he said. "I had to finish my hits and rub guys out. That doesn't mean killing guys, but make sure they don't get to the net before I do."
Coach Randy Carlyle did not mince words when asked about what happened last season and also what Gardiner had to do this year.
"Continue to grow," Carlyle said. "It's very easy to pick out Jake on the ice with his skating ability and offensive instincts that he demonstrates to go with his ability to carry the puck. He has to be a strong defensive player. We're not going to be able to afford lackadaisical or lazy or non-physical defensive zone coverage."
Carlyle was disappointed with Gardiner's play during the Maple Leafs shortened training camp following the lockout.
"I just think when he came to us after a shortened training camp he wasn't the same player," Carlyle said. "He was totally a different hockey player; a lethargic, slow-moving player who didn't move his feet. We, as a coaching staff, just felt he wasn't performing at a level that would give him the best chance for success. With Jake, the question is when, it's not how or if. He's going to play in the NHL."
Gardiner answered the question of 'when' upon returning to the Leafs late in the season. He blossomed in the playoffs scoring a goal and five points in seven games. He also got back to controlling the pace of the game with his marvelous skating ability. If he continues to play as he did then he has star potential.
RANGER PAUL: Paul Ranger
is the Maple Leafs mystery man.
After four-plus seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, during which time he established himself as a solid two-way defender, Ranger walked away from the game. Eight games into the 2009-10 season, he up and quit.
Upon meeting with the media Thursday, Ranger took the time to shake hands with many of them. Why?
"Because it's respect," Ranger said. "It's just the way I am. We all really work together so I want to develop a good working relationship with all of you."
Ranger then talked about his road back to hockey which included a one-year stopover in the AHL last season with the Marlies.
"It's been a long, hard road," he said. "But for the most part it has been amazing; a great journey for me. I've learned a lot along the way and now I'm here in the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room starting Day 2 of camp and I'm excited to get going."
The six-foot-two, 215-pound Ranger probably could have helped the Leafs last season, but he said he made a commitment to the Marlies and wanted to see that through. Based on his performance last season when he managed eight goals and 25 points in 52 games, he should be an impact played despite taking three seasons off.
"He's another guy who has played very well," Carlyle said. "He's a big, strong guy that can move the puck. We're looking at him as a guy who played in the top four in the NHL before and he's taken a hiatus from the game. We're going to try to provide him with environment where he can have some success and we'll be very fortunate if he can step in and play in our top six."
Asked about rediscovering his passion for the game, Ranger said, "To be honest, I never really lost it. It was always within me, but for a while it was deep. A big part of it was coaching and re-discovering who I wanted to be; the type of man I want to be and harnessing and using my skills as a human being to provide for myself and my family."
Ranger coached minor hockey in Whitby with OHL commissioner David Branch.
EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND:
The Maple Leafs added to their depth when they invited former Vancouver Canucks speedster Mason Raymond to camp on a professional tryout
"Historically he's been a guy that has provided speed," Carlyle said. "He's a very noticeable player. He gets the puck and has the ability to get away from people. He has these quick little moves that allow him to get away and then with his stride he's very hard to catch. He scored 25 goals in this league before and it's not easy to score goals in the NHL."
Raymond has a connection with Leafs general manager Dave Nonis, with whom he played in Vancouver, and that opened the door to the tryout in Toronto.
"Dave is the guy who founded me and drafted me to Vancouver," Raymond said. "Like anybody though, I'm here to earn a spot. I've got to go out and put my best foot forward.
"I still believe I'm an NHL player. I believe in my abilities and I think I can be a good two-way player with a lot of offensive upside. But in saying that |I want to be a reliable two-way guy."
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