Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane has become the total package
By Mark Lazerus email@example.com March 21, 2013 10:29PM
Updated: April 23, 2013 2:27PM
After just about every practice, every morning skate, every game, Patrick Kane is there in his stall, ready — sometimes even eager — to talk. To talk about his latest jaw-dropping on-ice exploits, about his teammates, about the latest controversy in the league, even about his past indiscretions and his future goals.
The Blackhawks winger is an open book. He doesn’t hide — physically in the closed-off locker room, or emotionally in a cloud of no-comments and cliches.
He doesn’t hesitate to talk about the embarrassment of his very public party weekend in Madison, Wis., last spring, or any other bouts of Internet infamy. Like it or not, it’s part of his career narrative, and while he certainly doesn’t embrace it, he doesn’t run from it, either.
“You feel you’re kind of invincible,” Kane said of being young, rich and beloved. “But all that stuff was my fault. It’s been humbling to go through those things. I’m a different person now and I’ve changed a lot. I’m moving on.”
He also doesn’t hesitate to beat himself up for what he deemed a couple of down seasons the last two years, his numbers dropping and his impact waning, even if just slightly. He talks openly about wanting to be a top scorer, to be tabbed one of the league’s best, to be considered a truly elite all-around player.
Only time will tell if Kane has truly changed off the ice, or if he even needs to. On the ice, though, he clearly has — for the better.
As the Hawks hit the home stretch of the lockout-shortened season, Kane is in the discussion for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the league’s MVP. Through 30 games, he’s the Western Conference’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 22 assists, with a healthy plus-11 rating.
And while he’s as gifted as ever with the puck on his stick — dangling and spinning his way past bewildered defensemen, roofing shots from impossible angles, and dazzling teammates and opponents alike in shootouts — it’s the sudden and drastic improvement in his all-around game that has him among the league’s elite.
“Something’s happened where he’s totally changed not the way he plays — he’s always been a great player — but the consistency of his game,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “His year has been pretty fun to watch if you’re not a hockey player on another team. Every night he’s coming to play. He’s getting more like Jonathan Toews every day.”
Given Toews’ universal reputation as one of the league’s top two-way players, that’s lofty praise for the offensive-minded Kane. But one of the biggest reasons for the Hawks’ success — if not the biggest — is Kane’s focus and commitment to the team system, which tries to generate offense from stout defense. And it’s no accident.
“I feel that if I can work hard to get the puck back, I can do more things when I have the puck, that I can make a lot of plays,” he said. “Just trying to work hard defensively not for my own sake, but maybe to show some other guys on the team that if you work that hard defensively, you can get chances the other way. And it’s a big part of our team game.”
That’s Kane emerging as not just a two-way player, but a bona fide leader, as well. Again, Toews-like. That he can commit himself to backchecking and chasing pucks deep into his own end while still producing at a career-high rate of nearly 1.3 points per game is a testament to his eye-popping offensive skill.
“It’s amazing to watch him,” Ducks forward and future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne said. “It’s fun to watch the guys who seem to have fun.”
And there’s still fun to be had off the ice, too. In fact, to a man, the Hawks say Kane hasn’t changed one bit. He’s still a happy, fun-loving guy, in the dressing room and away from the rink. He hasn’t locked himself in his home after the Madison incident, which left general manager Stan Bowman “disappointed” and looking for more maturity out of his star player.
But at 24, he’s a little older, a little wiser, a little humbler. And he knows that “invincible” feeling is only good to have when he’s on the ice.
“He’s really the same kid,” said Bowman, with whom Kane lived as a rookie. “He hasn’t changed an awful lot, truthfully. He’s gone through some things, he’s lived his life. … He’s a good kid, he’s a fun-loving kid. He loves to play hockey and he wants to fulfill his potential.
That’s more of something from within. He’s a pretty driven kid that way. He’s been a great player ever since he was 10 years old. This is all he wants to do is play hockey, and he’s doing a great job.”