They say you build a Stanley Cup contender through the middle of the ice.

So the Canada Day coup of landing a true No. 1 centre like John Tavares — the greatest free agent prize of the NHL’s salary cap era — immediately made Vegas readjust its 2019 Stanley Cup odds to favour the championship-starved Toronto Maple Leafs and has sent giddy chatter throughout golf carts, summer-league dressing rooms, and patios across the GTA that the three-headed monster of middle ice, Tavares-Matthews-Kadri, could be the key to unlock all of Leafs Nation’s deferred joy.

“I don’t think a player like him would have wanted to sign in Toronto eight, nine years ago. That’s the culture we’ve been trying to rebuild, to acquire those free agents, to make Toronto a destination players want to come to and win in,” Nazem Kadri said Tuesday at the annual NHLPA Golf Classic at Glen Abbey.

“Johnny realized something special we had here, and I think he made the right choice.”

Kadri skated alongside Tavares when the two were junior stars with the OHL powerhouse London Knights.

“Right from the beginning, he was so gifted. He was so much better than everyone else—his hands, his hockey sense is off the charts,” Kadri said.

Kadri was one of several Leafs who reached out to his old pal during the courting period leading up to Tavares’s July 1 decision and considered flying to L.A. to meet him in-person. That didn’t happen, but Kadri did speak to Tavares immediately after the signing.