There’s been cause for celebration among the Maple Leafs faithful for the past 24 hours. And rightfully so, as it was announced early Sunday that star centreman John Tavares — he of two Hart Trophy nominations and three 80-point campaigns — will don Toronto’s blue and white for the next seven years.
But while Torontonians rejoiced at the former New York Islanders captain’s decision to return home as a free agent, there’s no comparing that to the impact the news had on those inside the club’s locker room, who could see their team take a significant step forward with No. 91 now in the fold.
Leafs centreman Nazem Kadri — now potentially one of the game’s top third-line pivots given the impending lineup shuffle — joined Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports Monday to discuss the game-changing addition and how he’ll fit into the lineup.
“Obviously, he’s got the talent to be in that one-spot, and he just brings so much, even in terms of off the ice,” Kadri said Monday. “He’s a leader, he’s professional. I know, playing with him, he takes care of himself. His preparation is second to none, so I think that’s one thing that’s going to mesh well with our team.”
Kadri and Tavares will sport the same jersey for the second time in their hockey careers, the first coming when the duo played together for the OHL’s London Knights during the 2008-09 season. Tavares joined the team for the latter portion of that campaign, posting 32 goals and 50 points through his 24 games as a Knight, while Kadri amassed 25 goals and a team-leading 78 points through 56 games.
“Even back in the day, he used to just have a knack for the net and was able to produce goals every single year,” Kadri recalled. “It’s going to be exciting.”
Kadri — who was drafted seventh-overall by the Leafs the same year Tavares went No. 1 to the Islanders — stressed the impact Tavares’ arrival will have on the progress Toronto has already been building towards. The 2017-18 season marked the first time the Leafs earned back-to-back post-season appearances in over a decade, that playoff run coming after a regular season in which they amassed a franchise-best 49 wins.
So, why exactly should Tavares be intrigued by the chance to take the ice with the Leafs?
“For wins. That’s the simple answer,” Kadri told the Prime Time Sports crew. “We’re trying to build something special. We’re not only trying to build it for the next two or three years, but it’s going to be a significant amount of time where we can contend. So I think that’s what he’d be most excited about.”
Much has yet to be decided regarding Tavares’ fit with the club and the best arrangement of the roster’s offensive weapons. There’s also the matter of whether the Mississauga, Ont., native now jumps past Auston Matthews as the next presumptive captain for the storied franchise. General manager Kyle Dubas made clear that he and head coach Mike Babcock won’t rush any decision on who eventually gets the ‘C’ stitched on their sweater.
In Kadri’s eyes, there’s no question Tavares would be up to the task.
“I definitely know he can handle [the captaincy] — he’s a guy that’s got some pretty big shoulders, and you can put a lot of weight on them,” Kadri said. “He’s a good player — he’s been under a lot of pressure since he was 13, 14 years old. Just the hype of John Tavares , I remember back in the day, it was through the roof.
“I’m not sure how a young kid handled it as well as he did, but he’s been used to that.”
Watch Kadri’s full interview on Sportsnet 590’s Prime Time Sports at the top of this post.