Nazem Kadri is the third-oldest skater on the Calgary Flames’ roster. He ranks second in career games played.
So this assessment might come as a surprise to some.
“I think he’s growing up,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska after Tuesday’s triumph over the Nashville Predators at the Saddledome. “I know he’s older now, but I think he’s maturing to the point where he’s realizing that he’s not just a player that has to perform his role. He has an obligation now to help bring other people along.
“I think that’s part of him growing as a player.”
That’s not some sort of backhanded compliment. It’s praise for the double duty that the 33-year-old Kadri has been pulling as of late — as both a marquee man and a mentor for his much younger linemates.
After a sluggish start, Kadri is riding a four-game point spree as he returns to his old stomping grounds in Toronto. The ex-Leaf has registered two goals and four assists over that stellar stretch.
What’s especially encouraging for the Flames is that the all-star centre has clicked with his new second-line sidekicks — rookie Connor Zary on left wing and Yegor Sharangovich on the opposite flank. That trio was assembled when Zary was called up from the minors last week, and they have been Calgary’s best forward combo in all three games since. As Huska put it: “There’s something there with that line, and hopefully we can keep them playing the right way.”
Zary, who won’t be returning to the Wranglers as long as he keeps this up, recently turned 22. Sharangovich, now in his fourth NHL season, should still be on the rise at 25. Both have described Kadri as a steady presence and a between-shifts sounding board, and the veteran pivot says he is “just trying to encourage these guys, because I know they have the skill set.”
“I think, with Connor in particular, there’s a young guy that needs a lot of guidance,” Huska said before the Flames departed for a three-game getaway that starts with Friday’s matchup with the Maple Leafs in Toronto (5 p.m. MT, Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). “And I think that’s one of the things that he has drawn out of Naz, is a responsibility of being a leader and helping someone along. It doesn’t mean you’re going to just pat him on the back and say, ‘It’s OK.’ He’s challenging him in the right way, and that’s what I really like about where Naz is at right now.
“I think Naz feels like he can take him under his wing a little bit, and he’s kind of enjoying that role.”
Going back to last winter, Kadri has been something of a good-luck charm for Flames rookies.
He was on the ice for Walker Duehr’s first career goal in January and for Jakob Pelletier’s first a few weeks later. That trend has continued in the early stages of this new campaign, with No. 91 enjoying an up-close view of welcome-to-the-NHL snipes by Matt Coronato, Zary and Martin Pospisil.
“Playing with a lot of rookies,” Kadri quipped, grinning wide. “It’s kudos to them — they’re putting the puck in the back of the net. I try to pride myself on trying to make my linemates better and just being a good influence and a positive reinforcement out there and just encouraging them to continue to make plays while being responsible.
“It’s always nice to be part of that because that is a life-lasting moment that no matter how many years pass, you’re always going to remember it. So it’s nice to be on a couple first-goal plaques.”
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Kadri was wearing a Maple Leafs uniform when he notched his first, way back in March of 2011. He has scored 244 since.
After snapping out of his early-season slump, when he was a popular target for criticism with zero goals and just one measly assist in the first eight contests, he is once again providing the sort of offensive pop that you expect from a guy with a US$7-million salary-cap hit.
“From the beginning of the year, I could maybe think of one game where I don’t think his work ethic was at the level where he’s capable of,” Huska said of Kadri, who still needs to chip away at a minus-10 rating. “He’s been really consistent in that area, and that’s one of the reasons why we weren’t really concerned with him.
“For those type of players, at times they can be streaky. And now he’s feeling good with where he’s at.”
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
This three-game road trip includes home games for several of the Flames.
Kadri, Andrew Mangiapane and Chris Tanev all grew up in Leafs-Land, and Toronto is not much of a drive for the personal fan club of Buffalo-raised blue-liners Nick DeSimone and Dennis Gilbert.
MacKenzie Weegar’s roots are in Ottawa, while A.J. Greer and Jonathan Huberdeau hail from the Montreal area.
“When you go back east to these Canadian cities, there are a lot of family and friends around,” Huska said. “But I feel like that brings the best out of the players, as well. Every time I’ve been to Toronto or Montreal, we seem to get the best out of our players. I’m expecting that trend to continue.”
Wes Gilbertson and Danny Austin have been covering the Flames for years and know what makes the team tick. Have questions? They have the answers – or the contacts to track them down. Send your questions to email@example.com