Mike Babcock wants more: Toronto Maple Leafs coach says Nazem Kadri’s line ‘has to be better’

TORONTO — Training camp has nearly run its course, and Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock wants more.

Specifically, more from the Patrick Marleau-Nazem Kadri-Leo Komarov line.

“I thought early it was really going good,” Babcock said Thursday after the Leafs practised at the MasterCard Centre. “That line has to be better. That group can be way better, way quicker. They have to upgrade. We need Naz to be really good for us to be effective. That group has to find some chemistry and get going.”

The chances appear to be solid that Kadri and his linemates will have another opportunity to find cohesion when the Leafs visit the Detroit Red Wings at the new Little Caesars Arena on Friday night in the first of back-to-back pre-season meetings between the clubs.

Babcock said he will use “more of an NHL lineup” in Detroit and that goalie Frederik Andersen will play the full game.

Babcock indicated that defenceman Roman Polak will make his pre-season debut when the teams meet on Saturday night at Ricoh Coliseum. Polak is in camp on a tryout, attempting to make a full comeback after breaking his leg during the playoffs last spring.

Kadri was asked about his chemistry with Marleau before Babcock met with reporters.

“I think it has been great,” Kadri said. “It’s fun. I enjoy playing with a player like that. He’s smart, he can score, he is experienced … I’m trying to read off him and get a better understanding for how he plays and how he wants to play, so it has gone well.

“I’ve learned that when he gets the puck in the corner or in open ice, sometimes you tend to want to go support your winger and be a little bit closer to him, but Patty, I think you got to give him some space.

“He’s a big, strong guy, he can beat guys one-on-one, so in order for me to read off him, I have to get into areas where I can be a threat offensively to score, because he’s going to get me the puck.”

It’s possible observers of the first practice group on Thursday got a better handle on the final Leafs roster.

There was no change in the top three lines, while Miro Aaltonen again was between Matt Martin and Connor Brown. A fifth line had Dominic Moore centring Eric Fehr and Josh Leivo.

Martin Marincin was partnered with Connor Carrick on the blueline, while the fourth defence pair was Calle Rosen and Andreas Borgman.

With the second group were hopefuls Kasperi Kapanen, Nikita Soshnikov and Travis Dermott.

“We have tried to make it as competitive as we possibly can. We have tried to let them know in advance where they stand,” Babcock said. “We have tried to put them in all different situations, and we will continue to do that.

“Especially on defence, the competition is better than I expected, players are better than I expected,” he continued. “Up front, we are just trying to figure that out. Some guys can go through waivers, don’t need waivers, other guys do (in order to be sent to the AHL Toronto Marlies). Sometimes, that makes it easier to make decisions while you figure out what you really need to do.”

Moore, Fehr, Leivo and Marincin must clear waivers. Aaltonen, Kapanen, Soshnikov, Dermott, Rosen and Borgman do not.

The Leafs’ final 23-player roster has to be submitted to the NHL by 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

What will the message be for those sent down?

“I just say, ‘this is your lot in life,’” Babcock said. “Lots of times, when you send a guy down, he doesn’t hear a word you say, because he is just mad he is going down, and then a week later when you talk to him, you try to make it clear when you have a good attitude and you work hard every day, things turn out for you.

“When you don’t, things don’t go the way you want. The best players are going to play on the team. We might not always get it right in the short-term, but we will get it right.”

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