Maybe all Nazem Kadri needed was a wakeup call from his head coach because ever since the 22-year-old was made a healthy scratch for a game against the Texas Stars on November 9th, he's kicked his game into gear and the results are showing.
Kadri was named AHL player of the week Monday, and is currently riding an impressive five-game point streak where he's scored two goals and added nine assists helping the Marlies to four wins in their last five games.
"The great thing about Naz is he's such a competitive kid," Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins told the media after Toronto's 6-1 win over Hamilton on Saturday. "Every night he plays he's in the top three competitive guys on our team and he's responded well [since being scratched.]
"I told him the other day I said 'you've really screwed yourself now' and he didn't know what I was talking about and then I said, 'you've shown what you can do and how you can play and that's your bench mark.' It's good to see him get rewarded."
Less than two months into the Marlies season Kadri has already seen his fair share of ups and downs.
After the first day of training camp back in September Eakins told the media Kadri needed to improve on his eating habits and that his body fat levels were in the bottom three to five guys in the entire camp.
Of course Eakins' words spread throughout the media and the forward whose been met with plenty of scrutiny — fairly or unfairly — since being drafted by the Leafs organization in 2009 had yet another negative storyline to answer to.
Kadri told Kevin McGran of the Toronto Star at the time:
"It definitely could have been a little better; it's definitely not bad. The way I'm carrying myself on the ice, I feel stronger. My wingate is way better than it was last year. Even that body fat did drop down from last year.
"I'm still a young guy, I'm slowly learning how to be a pro and what types of food to put in my body. I'm a pretty picky eater. I don't like too many things," said Kadri. "The squash and the spinach, these healthy dressings you've got to put on your salad, I'm not a huge fan of. I learned these are the things I have to put in my body. As time goes on, I'm sure my taste buds will react positively."
About a month later the Marlies coach praised Kadri for his positive progress. But his improved fitness levels and diet wasn't translating to success on the ice.
"His play was off," Eakins said Saturday. "There was a time when he was going through the game and was getting a ton of chances but was just not getting rewarded, and then he went through a couple of games where there just wasn't any chances and we just thought it was time for him to be pulled from the lineup."
Some have criticized the way the Leafs have dealt with the development of their top offensive prospect constantly moving him between the NHL and AHL, but as Damien Cox argued in his column for the Toronto Star last week, maybe an extended NHL lockout is beneficial to the Leafs when it comes to growing prospects like Kadri.
Without the pressure of trying to crack an NHL lineup Kadri has only one job to focus on: finding success at the AHL level. And as Cox said, an extended stint with the Marlies won't hurt someone Kadri at all; it can only help build him into a better player, a player that Leafs fans are hoping is ready for full-time NHL action soon.