Leafs’ Lamoriello loves Kadri but ‘he’s not a first-line centre’

Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello joined Prime Time Sports to talk about signing Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have made a number of significant roster changes since the end of last season, most notably trading Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and James Reimer.

Nazem Kadri’s name had often come up as another player the team might consider dealing at some point if he was not in management’s long-term plans. That speculation was muted Wednesday when the team signed Kadri and Morgan Rielly, two pending restricted free agents, to six-year contracts.

“What I see in Kadri is the type of player that I personally want on my team,” Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello told Prime Time Sports on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Wednesday. “I want him in a seventh game of the Stanley Cup. I want him out there when the game is on the line because he brings everything and leaves [it all on the ice].”

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Kadri was selected seventh overall by the Maple Leafs in 2009 and led the team with 45 points in 76 games this season. The 25-year-old’s career with the Maple Leafs has had its fair share of ebbs and flows, but with off-ice issues seemingly under control Lamoriello and the team sees a bright future for the London, Ont., native.

“In my opinion he’s not a first-line centre, but he’s a centre that can handle every situation that’s asked of him,” Lamoriello said. “Mike [Babcock] kept giving him more and more [responsibility] and he accepted it and he thrived in it.”

Earlier in the day, on a conference call, Lamoriello said he felt neither Kadri nor Rielly has reached his full potential and that it will be up to them to do what’s necessary to reach it.

Lamoriello explained that he and Mike Babcock joined the organization with no preconceived notions last year and they, plus team president Brendan Shanahan, used the 2015-16 campaign to evaluate Kadri and Rielly.

“Collectively, the three of us are extremely comfortable after this year in the interaction that has taken place between these two players that they can be and should be part of the core going forward,” Lamoriello said.

The Maple Leafs mostly made short-term signings last off-season, but Wednesday’s moves were made with the big picture in mind.

Rielly, the fifth pick from 2012, led all Maple Leafs defencemen in goals (nine), assists (27) and points (36), setting career highs in all three categories.

While any lengthy contract carries risk, Lamoriello wasn’t worried about the long-term nature of these deals.

“I don’t think it’s so much the six years. I think it’s the status of where the player is in his potential free agency. In Morgan Rielly’s case, what we did by going six years is buying him really out of two years of free agency and in Kadri’s case it’s buying him out of four years of free agency, so I think there’s a significance in that. As far as the six years…we feel that there’s no risk.”

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