The story got a lot of mileage back in the winter of 2010 when veteran Maple Leafs had a one-game glance at Nazem Kadri sans shoulder pads and T-shirt.

Captain Dion Phaneuf in particular warned the doughy first-round pick that in future he’d best shape up or get shipped out to the farm when the final cuts were made. Phaneuf’s comment was part of the usual razzing a rookie expects but it proved just the start of the needling Kadri took about his conditioning much of it from management and coaches. When Don Cherry came to the kid’s defence on national TV it became a major talking point in the absence of any Leaf playoff appearances.

Yet it’s a challenge Kadri has embraced every summer since. Not even his best NHL season to date a leap to second in team scoring and a taste of post-season action were cause for him to take a break this past July and August. He kept up a dedicated pace in the gym and on the ice with the club’s power skating instructor Barb Underhill.

That’s where he was Monday working with Underhill nearly an hour on an otherwise empty practice rink. There are limits to how much his six-foot frame can bulk up so balance on the blades is now his final frontier.

“That’s a part of the game where I can get to a different level” Kadri said.

“I’ve put a lot of work in. I pride myself on my speed my quickness my reaction but there is always room for improvement. I have a pretty good foundation and with Barb’s help I can be one of the elite skaters in the league.

“I’ve worked with her a couple of months now just myself and her. If you talk to her it’s like night and day.”