Four NHL general managers and three times that many scouts sat high above the ice at First Niagara Center, all of them marvelling at the unexpected phenom, Nazem Kadri.

It is that apparent and that unexpected what this young man is doing in his first full-time tour of duty as a Maple Leaf.

Even in shootout defeat, a big point blown, a big-game blown against the wonky Buffalo Sabres — really, the Leafs needed this win — Kadri left his signature on this game, this league, this time.

“I saw him around Christmas with the Marlies,” said Phoenix general manager Don Maloney. “He didn’t do much. And I thought, you know, maybe he’s not going to make it.

“And we all make the same mistake in this business. We want to rush our kids and have them play right away. We want to make snap decisions. And when they don’t do what we want, too often we give up on them.”

The top four scoring centres in the National Hockey League are somewhat expected: Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf. All of them will play for Canada, assuming that NHL players will be in next winter’s Olympic Games.

As for the fifth leading scorer: Kadri, well, put it this way, no one is talking about his body fat count anymore.

“I didn’t see that coming,” said Maloney of the Kadri development in his first full Leafs season in this shortened NHL campaign. “But isn’t that the lesson in all this? You’ve got to let your players develop. We’re all guilty of not doing that.”

Kadri isn’t just developing. He is taking the NHL by storm. He had his second straight three-point night for the Leafs, his eighth point in the past three games.

“It’s amazing what he’s doing,” said Doug Armstrong, general manager of the St. Louis Blues. “I don’t think anybody expected this, this soon.”

It isn’t just the points that are coming for Kadri. It’s how they’re coming. It’s what he’s accomplishing. It’s the steps he takes every night to make him more of a pro, more of an impact player, more — and this is presumptuous — of a star.