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Nazem Kadri feels Leafs' possibilities

It's been a while, the buzz in Toronto over the Maple Leafs is back. Nazem Kadri feels it. Andre Ringuette/Getty Images

In the midst of a breakout season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, 22-year-old Nazem Kadri is helping lead the way to the team's first playoff appearance since 2004. Kadri tells ESPN.com's Katie Strang about the highs and lows of his career, who has kept him grounded and why he thinks the Leafs may be a sleeper team this spring in this week's installment of the New York Minute.

Strang: What's the buzz been like in Toronto lately with the team poised to make the playoffs?

Kadri: It's been great. It's been a long time since that's come to the city. I think everyone's starting to realize that we have a chance now, so everyone's excited about it for sure.

Strang: What's been the difference for the team this year?

Kadri: I think we've just got a great group of guys in the dressing room and I think that chemistry is definitely there. All of the guys are close together and it's a pretty tight-knit group, so it's definitely had an effect on how things translate on the ice.

Strang: You've seen the flip side as well. How much of a challenge has it been to manage the highs and lows while playing in Toronto?

Kadri: Especially in this market, it's tough sometimes. It's tough to not get too high when things are going good and it's tough to not get too low when things are bad. So I think it's important to find that happy medium and making sure you're working every day to get better.

Strang: Any person that has been particularly helpful in finding that balance?

Kadri: My family has supported me great. My mom and my dad have always been the people I've leaned on the most, especially when things ... I had a rough patch for a while there when it was tough to come to the rink. They kind of talked me into it and really let me know that things could be a lot worse. They really kept me grounded through the whole process.

Strang: And you have four sisters, right?

Kadri: I do, yes.

Strang: So they don't have any problem with keeping you in check ...

Kadri: [laughing] No, absolutely not.

Strang: What has been the key to your season? You seem to have really captivated people throughout the league with your play.

Kadri: I felt like this is the year. If I was going to do something like that, this is the perfect time to do it. The last couple of years I've been working toward being a better professional and making sure when I do get my chance up here I'm a very adaptable player and hopefully I can help my team win. I've been doing a lot of work off the ice as well as on the ice, just making sure my body is prepared for whatever helps.

Strang: What sort of impact did Toronto Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins have on you?

Kadri: He's a good guy, a great coach. He was pretty tight with me and communicated with me a lot. There weren't lots of times where I was left in the dark. I'm definitely thankful for that. He's always stuck with me from day one. Me and him have had a long run together, but it ended up being a pretty good one.

Strang: I know the team is still without Joffrey Lupul, but you seemed to develop some chemistry together. How much are you looking forward to him returning to the lineup?

Kadri: Oh, yeah, that's a big positive. He's such a beneficial part to our group. It seems like everyone else picks their game up when he's in the lineup and I know he's going to come back even stronger than he was before.

Strang: What are your thoughts on this team and what sort of run you can make in the playoffs?

Kadri: I think the sky is the limit, really. I think we could be a bit of a sleeper team. Not many people expect us to get out of the first round but, especially the way we've been playing lately, we can surprise a lot of people, for sure.

Strang: Can you imagine what the city would be like then?

Kadri: I have no clue. I think the last time we were in the playoffs I was 12 years old, so I've never really gotten the opportunity to see what it's like around here when it's going well. So, I'm definitely going to tune in.