Nazem Kadri has been a perfect fit for the Flames

Nazem Kadri reached the pinnacle, then he left the group chat.

Kadri was an instrumental part of the Colorado Avalanche’s 2022 Stanley Cup victory, recording the best individual season of his career with 87 points before averaging nearly a point per game in the postseason. In an ideal world, there would be no reason to leave, but the Avalanche couldn’t afford Kadri’s price tag, so he decided to head to their primary threat in the Western Conference.

Kadri inked a seven-year, $49-million contract with the Flames in August, effectively signing a lifetime deal as the new pact keeps him in Calgary through his age-39 season. Through the opening week and change of the 2022-23 campaign, Kadri has been a perfect fit for a Flames team that isn’t merely content with being the Avalanche’s most daunting rival, as they are looking to cement their Cup-contending bonafides of their own.

Nazem Kadri has fit in seamlessly with the Flames thus far. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Nazem Kadri has fit in seamlessly with the Flames thus far. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When he’s utilized to the best of his abilities, Kadri is a high-end scorer who can also operate as a shutdown centre. He can drive the offence one night and stick to the league’s elite forwards like glue, all the while showing a relentless, competitive flair that few players in the league boast. Kadri certainly lived up to his promise on opening night.

Facing off against his former team while receiving his Stanley Cup ring, Kadri, flanked by linemates Andrew Mangiapane and Dillon Dube, was primarily given the assignment of facing off against Nathan MacKinnon, Artturi Lehkonen and Mikko Rantanen — a line that boasts top-end scoring, defensive responsibility, physicality and championship pedigree. Kadri’s line posted a 74.72 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5, while being a constant pain to play against, forcing turnovers, and keeping MacKinnon largely in check — his breakaway goal occurred with the Mikael Backlund line on the ice.

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“I thought they had a big effort every shift,” Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said of Kadri’s line via The Athletic’s Julian McKenzie following the opening night victory. “When they were together, when we were able to get our lines in order, I thought they were clearly our best line.”

Kadri showed off his complete game against the Oilers, too. He shadowed Leon Draisaitl for large stretches of the evening, holding the 2020 MVP to a miserable 15.65 expected goals percentage at 5-on-5 when deployed against him. Kadri also limited Connor McDavid’s effectiveness, and the advanced stats show Edmonton’s captain was miles better without having the 32-year-old watching his every move.

It also helps matters when you’re capable of scoring highlight-reel goals, and Kadri’s first with the Flames was a thing of beauty.

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Kadri has registered a goal and four points in three games. He’s not being asked to be the team’s primary offensive catalyst — that would fall on fellow new acquisition Jonathan Huberdeau — but he’s Calgary’s leading scorer through three games and isn’t in uncharted territory being asked to provide first-line scoring output on the team’s nominal second line. He doesn’t have a particularly hard shot, but Kadri is excellent at navigating space on the man advantage, and his all-around contributions are going to present the Flames with multiple looks they can flummox opponents with.

It’s only been three games but Kadri has earned a 66.56 percent share of the expected goals at 5-on-5 when he’s on the ice, with two drawn penalties. It’s somewhat maddening to consider he was still readily available on the free-agent market deep into the summer, but the Flames re-shuffled their deck, and so far general manager Brad Treliving is laughing to the bank.

Kadri has played the role of elite scorer with the task of driving the offence, flanked by a natural goal scorer in Mangiapane, and a fellow pain-in-the-ass type in Dube, a perfect encapsulation of his primary strengths. Kadri can be a top-end offensive catalyst one night and isn’t afraid to shadow the NHL’s marquee talents the next.

We’ll be monitoring the so-far undefeated Flames throughout the season, but in a pivotal year for a Cup-contending team, Nazem Kadri has been a perfect fit thus far.

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