Nazem Kadri is still learning his way in the National Hockey League.
But the Toronto Maple Leafs forward feels he's got a great teacher in head coach Randy Carlyle.
Kadri joined Hockey Night in Canada Radio hosts Gord Stellick and Greg Millen on Friday afternoon to talk about what he's learned from his coach, and how that's enabled him to take a step forward this year.
"I just think the communication factor is there [with Carlyle]," he said. "Everything really has an explanation, and I'm not sitting there wondering what’s going on or why something's happening. I just think that’s the biggest difference for me."
The 22-year-old London, Ont. native is coming off one of the best performances of his brief NHL career, as he netted his first career hat trick to help lift the Leafs to a 5-4 overtime win against the New York Islanders Thursday night.
He was quick to point out what he's learned — in part from Carlyle, who took over once Ron Wilson was fired last year — as a professional, as to when to take risks on the ice and when to play more conservatively.
"[I've learned] the areas of the ice where you can be creative, and where you can't," he said. "I've unfortunately had to learn the hard way. It was pretty difficult but I feel like I’ve got the hang of it. But there’s just a time and place and that’s what you have to understand."
Kadri hasn’t had the smoothest transition to the NHL. The former Kitchener Rangers and London Knights forward was chosen seventh overall by Toronto in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and failed to make the team the following year with former coach Wilson at the helm.
He was called up for one game by the Leafs in the 2010 season as an emergency fill-in, but was sent back down to the Knights. The six-foot, 188-pound forward then bounced back and forth between the AHL’s Toronto Marlies and the big club, playing in 29 games during the 2010-11 season and registering three goals and 12 points.
Last year, he registered five goals and two assists in 21 games. This season, he appears to have found his groove. Kadri leads the team with 21 points in 22 games, and said that Carlyle’s ability to manage his roster effectively has helped ease the young forward’s progression.
He also said it’s nice not having to be concerned with where he’s going to be playing his next game.
"That’s something where it’s kind of nice not having to worry about all the time; not knowing which game you’re going to come up and down [from the NHL to AHL]," said Kadri. "It’s difficult for a young player who’s never really experienced that before, but I think I’ve learned from it and I’ve grown certainly."
Toronto was sixth in the East heading into Friday night with 26 points.