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Maple Leafs training camp: Nazem Kadri the big winner in Matt Lombardi trade?

Nazem Kadri

DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STAR Leafs forward Nazem Kadri takes a breather during a practice at the MasterCard Centre this week.

Nazem Kadri has solidified himself in the minds of Leafs fans as a potential 25-goal scorer, a hometown hero who is poised for the next big step in his career — full-time employment at the NHL level.

That step was essentially laid open for him late Wednesday when the Maple Leafstraded veteran winger Matt Lombardi to Phoneix for a fourth round pick.

With the move, the log jam of veterans in camp broke enough to open a spot on the Leafs roster as the team prepares for Saturday’s NHL season opener in Montreal.

Lombardi’s exit should mean a roster opening for Kadri. So far, the 21-year-old first rounder from 2009 has had an impressive camp. The only thing missing to complete Kadri’s NHL script this season was a roster opening — and that appears available with the 30-year-old Lombardi’s exit.

Kadri on Wednesday continued with an often repeated story line: the Mississauga native simply hopes for a chance to prove himself.

Ever since his draft, he’s had what can be argued as several opportunities to play with the Leafs. But his stints in the NHL have, arguably, been either too short, or not long enough for Kadri to prove himself worthy of a full-time job in a Leafs jersey.

Every season since he was drafted, the big picture with his development seemed to change. Much of it was something of a hockey soap opera — he wasn’t defensively responsible, he wasn’t in good enough shape. While the sensationalism kept him in the headlines, he drew weighty support from Don Cherry, who frequently chastised Leafs management for their failure to bring Kadri to the NHL level and leave him there.

On Wednesday, Kadri skated on a line with Tim Connolly and Matt Frattin. His projection is a top six forward, but he may now be part of a checking line. That would give the Leafs a third line capable of scoring, something seen with the top clubs in the league.

thestar.com – Sports