The Toronto Maple Leafs called up two players from the American Hockey League on Friday, including top prospect Nazem Kadri.
Kadri leads the Toronto Marlies at 14 points, with five goals and nine assists, but general manager Brian Burke acknowleged the 20-year-old was summoned sooner than the struggling Leafs had anticipated.
After a strong start to the season Toronto has scored just nine goals during a current seven-game losing streak (0-5-2).
"I think in an ideal world if we'd won a few of the last games, we'd probably give him a bit longer [in the minors]," Burke told reporters.
Clarke MacArthur and Phil Kessel have accounted for 14 of the team's 32 goals, and they too have gone cold of late. MacArthur is without a goal in his last four games, while Kessel couldn't find the mark in the last seven.
The Maple Leafs also brought up six-foot-five defenceman Keith Aulie on Friday. Aulie, 21, was acquired in the multi-player deal on the last day of January that saw Dion Phaneuf come to the Leafs from the Calgary Flames. Aulie has one goal, three assists and 25 penalty minutes in 14 games.
Toronto returns to action Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada against the visiting Vancouver Canucks (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).
"You'd rather not bring in two young players on a Hockey Night game," said Burke. "It's a carnival atmosphere and everyone knows it's a special thing [on Saturdays]. You'd rather do it on a weeknight, frankly, but it's not an ideal world.
"This is what our players have to deal with, and our young players have to learn that."
Kadri won't be making his NHL debut — he had a one-game cameo last year against San Jose. The Leafs selected him seventh overall in 2009, and he had a junior career that included playing for Canada at the world championships.
On a Leafs team with few blue chip prospects, Kadri received a disproportionate share of media attention during the preseason.
Most hockey observers expected he'd make a thin Toronto rotation up front, but coach Ron Wilson and Burke let it be known midway through the exhibition slate that Kadri wasn't guaranteed a spot because he wasn't pulling his weight.
Kadri picked up his play in the final few games in September, but the Leafs decided he'd be best served starting the season in the AHL.
Burke said Kadri has made progress in his game in the minors, but that he's not expected to be a "saviour" for the team.
To make room for Kadri and Aulie, forward Christian Hanson and defenceman Korbinian Holzer were sent back to the Marlies.
When Aulie suits up, it will mark his NHL debut.
Wilson told reporters Jean-Sebastien Giguere is the likely starter against the Canucks.