Comparing Patrick Kane's Roles for the Chicago Blackhawks and Team USA

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2014

Chicago Blackhawks' Patirck Kane (88) celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues in an NHL hockey game Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
Bill Boyce/Associated Press

Go back to Game 5 of last year's Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks were back home at the United Center and in position to take a 3-2 lead in a pivotal game of the series against the Boston Bruins.

The visitors, who had lost the previous game in overtime on their home ice, seemed strangely tentative. The Blackhawks came out firing, and they dominated the action.

While they were playing well, there was only one player who could light up the scoreboard. That player was Patrick Kane, who beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask with a pair of close-in shots that demonstrated his overwhelming hand-eye coordination and quickness.

The Blackhawks would win that game 3-1 and take the series in Game 6 in Boston.

Kane turned a corner in his career last season. There was never any doubt about his talent, as Kane was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NHL draft. However, there were plenty of questions about his maturity and commitment.

There had been too many off-the-ice incidents with Kane, most of them beings misadventures involving alcohol.

However, when he reported to the team in January following the lockout, Kane was in shape, ready to go and determined to play consistently. He had played in Switzerland during the lockout and his mother went with him. He was in Sweden to play hockey, and he did just that.

Once he got back to the NHL, the Blackhawks saw a much more consistent and determined player. It culminated when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Kane scored nine goals and had 10 assists during the Blackhawks' postseason run, and two of his goals were game-winners.

Kane has continued to show off his immense talent this season. He has scored 27 goals and 36 assists this season to lead the Blackhawks, and he is fourth in the league in points, behind Sidney Crosby (75 points), Ryan Getzlaf (64 points) and John Tavares (64 points).

Kane is one of the best and most valuable players on the superstar-laden Blackhawks. He will take on that same kind of role for Team USA in the Olympics.

While the Americans have stars like Zach Parise, Jonathan Quick, David Backes and Phil Kessel, don't expect Team USA to bring home the gold—or silver, for that matter—if Kane is not buzzing around the ice. Kane needs to be able to create scoring opportunities for his teammates and bury the puck himself if the U.S. is going to find glory on the ice in Sochi.

Prior to last year, Kane was almost like a wild card. There was no doubting his offensive ability, but his performances were too varied for head coach Joel Quenneville's liking.

That's no longer the case. NBC analyst Eddie Olczyk said that he believes Kane's continued development this season is due in large part to his commitment to playing all 200 feet of the ice.

"I don't think there's any doubt the commitment, and what's been fun to watch and evolve, is his effort away from the puck," Olczyk told Tim Sassone of The Daily Herald. "That's really where he has taken his game to another level. I think the commitment to playing without the puck, he has realized now that gets him the puck a lot quicker."

Kane's stock in trade is his spectacular stick-handling and his ability to show patience with the puck. That last characteristic gives him the opportunity to force opposing goaltenders into the first move and gives Kane the advantage.

"His patience with the puck has always been a strength of his, but it seems like there's even an added patience with it," Quenneville told Sassone. "It's been fun to watch him."

Kane has been one of the best players in the league this year, and there's every chance that he could be a difference maker for the United States in the Olympics.

He has shown a commitment toward improving his game and he should be able to take the pressure off of Parise and Kessel when it comes to scoring goals when the game is on the line.

That ability should go a long way toward helping the United States bring home a medal—just as he helped the Blackhawks bring home a Stanley Cup.