Flames’ Kadri reflects on growth, maturity ahead of second All-Star appearance

Calgary Flames centre Nazem Kadri skates during first period NHL preseason hockey action against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)

Always proud to proclaim he drafted Nazem Kadri, Brian Burke is also the first to admit the kid needed plenty of guidance early on.

To illustrate, the former Leafs GM-turned Penguins president likes to spin a tale about how rough around the edges the seventh pick from the 2009 draft was when he arrived in Toronto as a 19-year-old.

“(Former Leafs VP) Dave Poulin comes to practice one day and there’s a car in the fire lane, so he goes to the trainer and says, ‘whose car is that?’ Well, it’s Naz’s’” said Burke of the young Marlie who straddled between the AHL and the Leafs for parts of three seasons.

“So Poulin goes over to Naz and said, ‘what are you doing parking there?’ 

“He said, ‘well, I was late.’

“Poulin said, ‘move the car to the farthest spot from the players’ lot and park there for a month. The Leafs have their own lot. The Marlies have their own lot. You’re not a Leaf until you’re a Leaf.’”

Burke was so mad at Kadri’s indiscretion he wanted him suspended for a game, “but the guys talked me out of it.”

Kadri’s road from perennial playoff offender to being a Stanley Cup champion, $49 million free agent signee and now, two-time all-star has been marked with life lessons, both on and off the ice.

Kadri remembers most of them, including the fire lane.

“Burkie likes to tell that story,” smiled the 32-year-old Flames leader.

“I parked where I wasn’t supposed to be, and he wasn’t happy about it. He made me park in the farthest parking spot for 30 days in the middle of winter. Long walk.

“He stung me with that one, for sure. I wasn’t happy with that one, but we always got along great.”

Flames GM Brad Treliving said Kadri has been “as advertised” in his first half season as a Flame, posting 38 points while solidifying his reputation as one of the league’s best second line centres.

“He’s one of those guys that every coach who has had him loved coaching him and he kept moving forward,” added Darryl Sutter, who has spoken to several of Kadri’s former bench bosses.

“Best way to describe him is that he’s a good competitor.

“He knows the game and he’s one guy that’s ready to go.”

[brightcove videoID=6318290725112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

While no one questions his compete, what has been noticeably absent from his game in Calgary is the fury that so often bubbled to the surface his first decade in the league.

He’s much more in control of the emotions that so often got the best of him.

“I guess I’ve got to be, with everything that has transpired,” said Kadri, who has a large contingent of friends and family members joining him in Florida this week to celebrate his second all-star appearance.  

“It’s just a maturity thing.

“It’s still definitely inside of me, but I’m able to control it a little more and understand when to pick my spots. 

“It’s an emotional game. You have to play with passion. The best players that win the most are the most competitive and passionate about what they do.

“That’s not going to change for me at all.”

It’s a massive departure from the lad who has been suspended six times, including three in the playoffs.

“When I was younger it was definitely harder to understand, but as you get older and watch and you gain experience and observe and learn from certain guys’ games you figure it out,” said Kadri.

“It’s just part of the development.”

Kadri credits teammates and mentors like Dion Phaneuf, Patrick Marleau, Mats Sundin, Mitch Marner and Nate MacKinnon for helping shape his game and approach.

Colby Armstrong was one of Kadri’s Leafs teammates who admits he’s “blown away” by the player and person Kadri has become, garnering Selke consideration last season while being, “a guy a lot of teams look at now and say, ‘geez, imagine if we had a guy like that with that compete level and skill-set and ability to get in your kitchen and be a bully?’”

Armstrong said that while Kadri was always naturally gifted, it was only once he matured he became “the total package.”

“The Leafs were hard on him at the start with the way he prepared in the summer and other things.

“They ripped into him in the papers too. 

“You’re in a pressure cooker situation in Toronto as a prospect, but it probably helped him realize his potential and find himself as a player. Once he did you see how valuable he is in any lineup. Credit to him.

“I imagine he looks back and thinks it was probably a good thing.”

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.