Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri: Off-season ‘has been my best’

John Tavares on the progression of former London Knights teammate Nazem Kadri, says he has an opportunity to take his game to the next level and should become a leader on the young Maple Leafs.

Nazem Kadri has the chance to take the Toronto Maple Leafs to the bank after this season.

But his first order of business has been hitting the gym.

The 24-year-old forward has been following a dedicated training regiment this summer, and says he’s seeing results.

“This off-season has been my best,” Kadri told the Toronto Sun. “Physically, it has been easier. My body is catching up with me and it’s easier to get stronger and I can work on those areas that I have to, a lot of explosive movements, agility, a lot of footwork.”

Kadri was given a one-year, $4.1 million “show-me” contract by Leafs brass, and if his confidence is any measure, he could have a break out season.

“I’m continually working on speed and obviously strength,” he said. “I think my lower body is a whole different ball game. I’ve become stronger and that’s what you need to keep up with all the best players.”

The London, Ont., native has been the subject of mixed reviews in Toronto since being drafted by the Leafs in the first round (seventh overall) in 2009.

New head coach Mike Babcock believes the centreman can be an elite forward in the league, and Kadri has been taking that challenge seriously since the start of the summer.

“There was no playing around this summer, it was right to work,” Kadri said. “I was just trying to improve on my weaknesses. I want to continue to start doing that, becoming more professional and kind of handling myself the right away.”

Kadri has registered 64 goals and 152 points in 250 career NHL games. His best campaign came in 2013-14, notching 20 goals and earning 50 points in 78 games.

While his work at the gym will be put to the test during training camp and at the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, it’s not all about box-squats and burpees. He also says he’s matured this off-season.

“There have been ups and downs and that’s just how it is. Obviously in Toronto there is a lot of speculation and a lot of scrutiny,” he said. “Sometimes that’s hard for young players, but as time goes on, the maturity comes into play. You start to realize this is what you really want.”

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