Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane and 5 Most Improved Players This Season

Matt BauerCorrespondent IINovember 7, 2011

Chicago Blackhawks: Patrick Kane and 5 Most Improved Players This Season

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    The Chicago Blackhawks signed a handful of players this past off-season to make up for what the team lacked during the 2010-11 campaign, which ended in an unsuccessful attempt to defend the Stanley Cup after winning the trophy in 2009-10.

    General manager Stan Bowman certainly couldn't have predicted the improvement of some Hawks since last season.

    Patrick Kane got a lot of grief for his performance in last year's first round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, and many people speculated about him being traded. Well, that was nonsense, and Kaner has shown he is the real deal so far in 2011.

    There are a handful of other Hawks that had some areas in their game that needed working on; and some have made visible improvements. No one is perfect and the adage that there is always room for improvement rings forever true. 

    Here are a few Blackhawks who have drastically improved since last season.

Patrick Kane

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    Patrick Kane entered the 2011-12 season a bigger and stronger presence than the hockey world had seen in the past. That physical improvement—PK 2.0 if you will—is readily apparent when he's on the ice.

    Not only does Kane look faster and stronger, but his excellence and production on the ice proves how he worked on his game in the off-season. Kane has tallied 15 points in the Chicago Blackhawks' first 14 games of the 2011 season and is proving to all of his critics that he is as valuable as people thought during the 2010 Winter Olympics, when he was one of Team USA's top performers.

    Kane has always been one of the faces of the Hawks' franchise, but it got to a point where he seemed to be making more noise in the tabloids than he was on the ice. At this rate, that trend looks certain to change for the best for the rest of Kane's career.

Bryan Bickell

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    Bryan Bickell's game has changed for the better since last year. 

    He hasn't scored the most points in the Chicago Blackhawks' first 14 games, but that's not the part of his game that needed improvement.

    Bickell is a big boy, standing at 6'4'', 223 pounds, and he's finally starting to take advantage of his size. 

    So far in 2011, I've seen Bickell get his hands a bit dirtier and bang a few more bodies than had previously been seen during the course of a game. His physical presence has the potential to create a lot of scoring opportunities for the Hawks, especially since he skates on the same line as Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik, who both have the ability to tickle the twine.

    Bickell has also improved his ability to control the puck when it's on his stick. Often in the past I'd see him lose control of the puck or dish it to a teammate quickly, but no more.

    Now, he doesn't hesitate to skate with the puck on his stick and looks like a natural when he does.

Nick Leddy

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    Nick Leddy has grown an enormous amount as a hockey player since the Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round of the NHL playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks at the end of the 2010-11 season.

    Statistically, Leddy has already scored half the amount of goals (two) as he did in 2010 (four) and double the number of assists (six that he tallied last season (three.)

    More importantly, Leddy isn't playing scared like he did for much of last season. 

    Leddy was far too afraid of contact when he had the puck on his stick and an opponent barreling toward him. This season, Leddy is embracing the contact and not prematurely passing the puck or turning it over.

    The best part about Leddy and his improvement is that he's still only 20 years old and has plenty of time to continue to get better. Being surrounded by the core group of players and veterans isn't going to hurt those chances to keep getting better, either.

Duncan Keith

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    Saying that Duncan Keith is one of the Chicago Blackhawks' most improved players is a little bit of tough love, but the 2010 Norris Trophy winner has definitely had a much better start to the 2011-12 season than he did a year ago.

    After the Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, the front office had to get rid of a lot of players from the Stanley Cup team in order to adjust to the NHL's salary cap. 

    Because of that, the Hawks were lacking the depth on defense they'd enjoyed the year before, and Duncan had the pressure to fill that void heaped upon him.

    This year, Keith's leg are much more rested than last year.  This is due to the longer off-season for the Blackhawks that came with a first round elimination and the increased depth added to the blueline by GM Stan Bowman.

    Keith, prior to his recent injury, looks much faster and explosive when he goes for the puck, almost as if every shift may be his last shift.

Viktor Stalberg

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    Viktor Stalberg always reminded me of Luis Mendoza from The Mighty Ducks because of his skating speed. 

    That flight of "foot" came at a cost, however, because it seemed like he was too fast for his own good and often couldn't control himself when he'd hit top speed.

    This year is a different story for the pacy Stalberg, and it looks like he learned a thing or two to apply to his game this off-season. Not only does Stalberg still have the speed he had last year, but he knows how to use his speed against defenders while in control of the puck to create scoring opportunities. He has finally added control to his physical talent.

    Even though Stalberg was fast, he didn't lack the toughness that some people may have thought. 

    Stalberg has also added a little fight to his game when he goes into the corner for a loose puck. The evolution of Viktor Stalberg has provided the Chicago Blackhawks with some short-term success, but this  can develop long-term and perhaps keep Stalberg in Chicago for years to come.