What has Nazem Kadri’s role been with the Calgary Flames and how has it helped him improve?

Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Raz Devraj
29 days ago
Sometimes players step into roles where expectations may be too high for them to conquer, and while it may have seemed like that was the case for Nazem Kadri last year, it certainly has not looked like that this season. 
Forgive me for bringing you all back to the summer of 2022, a time that will go down as one of the more painful ones in Calgary Flames’ franchise history. The best line in hockey that season had broken up. Johnny Gaudreau left for Columbus and Matthew Tkachuk was traded to Florida where an All-Star in Jonathan Huberdeau returned. 
After losing his two best players who were supposed to be the faces of the franchise for years to come, former GM Brad Treliving needed to make another splash in order to try and keep his team competitive. 
Coming fresh off a career-high 87-point season as well as his first Stanley Cup, Nazem Kadri was signed to a seven-year deal worth $49 million. Kadri was stepping into a role that required him to fill some pretty big shoes. Being signed in hopes of keeping a team competitive that just lost its two biggest threats is not an easy task. 
Finishing a season with 87 points and a Stanley Cup is bound to put eyes all over you, especially after signing a massive seven-year contract. Expectations were high for Kadri coming into the 2022-23 season. 
He was criticized for his impact after only finishing with 56 points through 82 games played in his first year as a Flame. What many people did not appreciate was the fact that Kadri has never been a consistent 80+ point producer. Kadri on average has produced around 50 points a season throughout his NHL career and before his career-high mark in 2021-22 the highest number of points that he put up in a season was 61 with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016-17. 
A lot of people judged his production off of one crazy season for him in Colorado where he played alongside players like Andre Burakovsky and Valerie Nichushkin as well as on a power play unit that featured the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar. It is going to be significantly easier to put up points when you are surrounded by that insane amount of elite talent. 
It was unfair for that amount of pressure and expectation to be put on a player who out of 12 seasons only produced to that level once and it didn’t help that it seemed as if he could perhaps be some sort of replacement to the players that were lost. Another thing to take into account is that he was no longer playing with players who possessed the same level of skill as his Avalanche teammates and the one guy who could fit into that category (Huberdeau) was having his worst season. It’s natural to criticize Kadri’s overall performance given his cap hit, but his performance wasn’t underwhelming from a point production standpoint given his history. 
Kadri came out of the gates flying this season and has been the most consistent Flame so far. His effort level has been high every game and his ability to drive this team’s offence has translated to the stat sheet. Through 64 games played Kadri has a team-leading 55 points, just one less than what he finished with last season. With 18 games remaining, he is projected to hit 70 points which would give him his second-highest career high in points in a season. 
One key improvement that Kadri has had from last season to this season is his patience with shooting the puck. Not throwing everything and anything at the net but making sure there’s a good chance of it resulting in a goal. A lot of the times last season Kadri would gain the zone, cut to the middle, and rip a shot on net. Nothing about that play is threatening and the only positive that comes out of that is the possibility of an offensive zone face-off. This season we are seeing Kadri be more patient when it comes to putting pucks on net and it has helped his shooting percentage increase from nine percent to 10.7 percent. Kadri’s plus/minus numbers have also improved significantly as he had a minus-19 last season and is currently sitting at a plus-2 which would indicate that more goals are scored for than allowed against with him on the ice. 
His role has elevated into being a leader for this group and he has fully embraced it as it has improved his game and his care factor as well. Kadri brings a veteran presence to the locker room which is important for the young players. What makes this season even more remarkable for Kadri is that he is doing all this on a team in which its roster is weak and depleted.
He has taken control of his game in dominating fashion, but he has also been able to be a mentor for the younger guys and drive a line that has featured two rookies in Connor Zary and Martin Pospisil. You could argue that as far as producing offence goes that line has been the biggest threat the Flames have had all year. 
“It’s been a challenge at times, playing with rookies all the time, but at least they’re eager to learn, they want to learn, and that’s what I appreciate,” Kadri told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis in a recent interview.
Although he has been known as a second-line center, Kadri has performed well enough this year to be considered this team’s number one, and with Elias Lindholm’s departure, his bigger role continues to give him the chance to prove it.
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