Contention has surrounded Nazem Kadri ever since he was drafted. It was June 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Bryan Murray’s Ottawa Senators were drafting ninth; Brian Burke’s Toronto Maple Leafs were drafting seventh. The Senators had been eying Kadri for months and thought it was a safe bet they could get him.
But when Murray caught wind that Kadri might go higher, he ventured over to the Maple Leafs’ table, looking to talk Burke into swapping picks so he could select his coveted London Knight. “What do you want to do?” Burke asked him, standing up to meet his colleague from Ottawa. “Well, I’ll flip you…” Murray started, before Burke promptly cut him off. “Kadri’s the kid we’re gonna take,” Burke said. “Is that the kid you want?”
Murray was clearly taken aback and had no choice but to concede that the reason he wanted to flip picks was to make Kadri a Senator. “Well, we’re going to take him,” Burke said. And that was that. He wasn’t even willing to hear Murray’s offer. Kadri was his guy.
Until he wasn’t.
Everyone was smiling on draft day, as Kadri pulled on a blue sweater and stood between Burke and his future coach, Ron Wilson—arms around backs, a future star welcomed into the fold. But just 15 months later, Burke was chastising Kadri publicly, telling reporters that the then-19 year old was “running out of time” to be a part of Toronto’s future. Days after that, Wilson threw even more dirt on Kadri’s grave, telling reporters, “he’s had lots of opportunities to make an impression. He’s got to realize the situation he’s in and get the job done, not talk his way out of how he’s played up to this point.”
Well, here we are three years later and Kadri is the Maple Leafs’ second-line centre, while Burke and Wilson have both been fired. Ever since he was given proper time to develop—instead of yo-yoing between the NHL and AHL as he did in the two years leading up to the lockout—Kadri has flourished. He was second to only Phil Kessel in goals and points in 2012-13’s shortened season, and so far this year, he’s put up 14 points in 18 games. Burke’s replacement, Dave Nonis, gave Kadri a two-year contract worth $5.8 million in September, and the 23 year old appears to be an integral part of the Maple Leafs’ long-term plans.
Even if you put his tumultuous first years of professional hockey aside, Kadri is an intriguing character. He’s the only player in the NHL of Lebanese descent and, having been born in Canada to non-traditional hockey parents, he has a rather unique perspective on the Canadian hockey experience. This isn’t the huntin’, fishin’ and fightin’ prairie boy hockey player that we’re used to—Kadri is a product of Canada’s inner-city diversity. He’s belligerent on the ice and cocky off of it, which is certainly a trope we’re accustomed to in the NHL, but his upbringing doesn’t fit the central casting roll call.
Now, does that mean we will watch Kadri on 24/7 and get an unfiltered view of what it’s like to be a cantankerous player of Middle Eastern descent in the blindingly-white, personality-adverse, conform-to-our-culture-or-else world of professional hockey? Probably not. But we may get to hear his expanded thoughts on how the Maple Leafs have treated him since that fateful day at the Bell Centre in 2009. And we may be able to glean some insight as to how a guy who has struggled to earn respect at every step of his career assimilates into an NHL team.