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Hockey Thoughts

April 1, 2021, 12:01 PM ET [26 Comments]
Adam French
Hello I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to.

1. Aaron Ekblad is Good

Shocker I know. Ekblad has been a solid defenseman basically every year other than his concussion induced 2016-2017 season. The 25...25? Wtf? The 25 year old defender has only had one season with less than 10 goals and you could argue he'd get close to it in the COVID shutdown. This past season everything seemed to be just right. He had 11 goals and 22 points in 32 games before injuring his leg. He was a dark horse Norris candidate (Let's be real, it's Hedman) and seemed to be hitting his stride.

Playing in Florida and being a 1st Overall Pick as a defenseman have really hurt his online reputation, but when you really look at the numbers, outside of one poor year this is a player who has met every expectation. I remember when some of my buddies here on HB were saying Hedman was a bust at 22 because he wasn't the PPG beast that he would eventually turn into...yet Ekblad blows Hedman out of the water at an age for age comparison.

2. The Death of 2021

This draft year is going to be nuts. As a huge follower, all I can say is "good luck." This has been the most hard to follow year since 2012 and that's mostly because 2012 should have been slam dunks but everybody was injured or failing. This time, it's lack of playing time, quality of competition and just strange situations. When the top-5 consists of "Slovakia's own" Brandt™ "Wendel" Clarke and Owen "Max" Power, you know it's a strange year.

I will say that I'm very happy that my benefactor and rumourmonger extraordinaire Eklund will see his son William drafted in the top-5. Great Shania loving Swedish lad.

3. The Buffalo Sabres

Sorry lads...that's about it.

4. Stars With Issues

Hi McElbow and McThrow. Can we please not just fine top players 5k or other dinky amounts? This isn't anything new. Crosby, Ovechkin, Marchand, Keith and so many others have been fined for things that would put AHLers in jail. I know it's hard and we don't want to lose any money in this season of losing money...but just some public awareness DOP.

5. Kirill Caldersov

Called it in his draft year. Why nobody just listens to my every idea as the personification of prescript dogma is a mystery to me. I also think that you idiots owning homes are dumb and that I will rent you out of existence.

Please wait a sec I need a cig

I can't believe they fired a legend like John Chayka, he was a visionary. He was young, dumb and full of cu-advanced stats twitter followers. Trump is such a moron, he tweeted something, I should post this.

6. Kadri: The Boy Inside The Man

On a hot, sweltering Toronto afternoon, I meet up with the Leafs 2009 top pick Nazem Kadri. This was the 2nd time I have met the young budding star and to say I was surprised is putting it mildly. The first time I met Nazem was September 2009, a scrawny young kid listed at 170lbs. I doubted he'd tip 165 in a wet suit when I first met him. This time around I was blown away. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was just the excitement of seeing this rising young star again at the beginning of his career. He had obviously started to fill out, and the results of all his hard work at the gym were more than evident. I bit my lip and thought to myself "Oh to be 19 again". What was once scrawny was now filled out and buff. Muscles rippled, pecs stood out, the face of the young lad had started to turn into that of a man. He sensed my shock when I saw him and greeted him.

"Wow", I say. "You're not how I remember"
Kadri giggles nervously and replies "Yeah, it's taken a lot of hard work".

I must have stared a moment too long because he seems to get nervous just then and suggests we move on and get the interview under way. I forget he's still a boy even though he's looking more and more like a man. I offer to buy him a smoothie from the Papaya Hut in downtown Toronto but he tells me he's on a strict diet. I grab my smoothie, and we leisurely stroll down Yonge St. and discuss his potential to make the Leafs this season.

Kadri is realistic about his chances this upcoming season and knows he has a tremendous opportunity if he works hard. He tells me it's been his dream since he was a kid to make the NHL and the opportunity presented by the Leafs is one he doesn't want to miss out on.

"We have a young core of players here in Toronto, the youngest in the league, I just hope I can show enough at camp to stick with the big club". Kadri has been penciled into the Leafs lineup by many observers but he knows it won't be that easy. "Last season was tough. I really thought I could stick in the NHL, but I realized later on that I still had a ways to go. I set out to improve myself and my game in hopes of making it this season"

The willingness and the ability to improve are two strong traits in this young man. After a slow start to the OHL season, Kadri picked up the pace to finish with 93 points in only 56 games and was named as a finalist for OHL player of the year. He continuted his strong play into the playoffs where he netted an incredible 27 points in only 12 games. These are stats that should get any Leafs fan excited about this young man's potential.

We briefly chat about his muslim upbringing and how he is being viewed as a potential role model in the league, a barrier smasher so to speak.
"I don't think about that stuff", replies Kadri, "I'm just me, I try to be the best I can be, if I inspire any other kids that's great, but I don't see myself as anything special in that regard".

I tell him he IS special, and he nervously accepts my compliment.

As we end the interview, I watch him walk away from me, I gaze and think about the future of this young star, this mere boy who is now filling out a man's body. The heat from the afternoon has coated Kadri's shirt in sweat, and I can easily make out the physique under his shirt. I still can't believe how much he's filled out, and I have to finally turn away as I bite my lip again.

I can't see into the future, but I predict great things for Kadri. Leafs fans should prepare themselves for success, with Kadri on a young Leafs team, the future is oh so bright.
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