Nazem Kadri first donned a Maple Leafs jersey on a stage at the Bell Centre in Montreal when he was drafted seventh overall by the club in 2009. Now, almost a decade later, John Tavares - his friend, former London Knights teammate, and longtime Leafs fan - will be joining Kadri in Toronto.
Kadri was drafted at one of the lowest points in the Maple Leafs' illustrious history. The team failed to reach the postseason in seven consecutive seasons from 2005-12. Finally cracking the playoff picture in 2012-13, Toronto suffered the most heartbreaking of exits in an epic Game 7 collapse against the Boston Bruins in the first round. The Leafs didn't return to the playoffs again for another four years.
Over the past nine seasons, Kadri, the longest-serving current Leaf, has witnessed restructuring and a total rebuild within the Maple Leafs organization, which he says helped land the biggest free agent in recent history.
"I don't think a player like (Tavares) would have wanted to sign in Toronto eight, nine years ago," Kadri said to the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan. "That's the culture we have been trying to rebuild, is trying to acquire those free agents and try to make Toronto a destination where players want to come and win. Johnny realized something special we had here and I think he made the right choice."
The buzz of adding one of the league's top centers brought restored faith to an organization that spent years trying to become a consistent Stanley Cup contender. Even though the addition of Tavares knocks Kadri down to a third-line role, his focus remains on bringing a championship to Toronto.
"You know what, winning is the most important to me." Kadri shared. "I don't care where I play, I don't care what role I play."
Few teams will be able to match Toronto's depth at center this upcoming season, sporting a trio threatening enough that Vegas oddsmakers favor the Leafs for the 2019 Stanley Cup.
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