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Patrick Kane's Growth, Maturation Boosting Rise to NHL's Most Explosive Player

Pat Pickens@Pat_PickensFeatured ColumnistApril 12, 2016

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 15:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks awaits a face-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the United Center on February 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Maple Leafs 7-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As part of their mid-2000s rebuild, the Chicago Blackhawks selected a scrawny, fresh-faced Buffaloan with the No. 1 overall pick in 2007.

Led in part by Patrick Kane’s dynamic offensive game, the Blackhawks have evolved into the NHL’s model franchise. As such, they have enjoyed the spoils. They made their third trip to the White House as defending Stanley Cup champions on Feb. 18. Three days later, they participated in their fourth outdoor game—and third in as many years—in Minnesota.

While captain Jonathan Toews is the Blackhawks’ unquestioned leader, Kane has been the NHL’s most electrifying player for some time now. But despite the shorter offseason that comes with hoisting the Stanley Cup, he is having his best pro season to date.

“I just see him maturing strength-wise,” said Dale Tallon, who drafted Kane as Blackhawks general manager but now is the GM of the Florida Panthers. “He looks like he’s more committed than ever before. He has more swagger, strength and belief. Every shift of every game he’s pretty well dominant.”

Points Per Game by American-Born Players
NameYearsPPG
Pat LaFontaine1983-19981.171
Brett Hull1986-20061.096
Patrick Kane2007-active1.008
Joe Mullen1981-19971.001
Craig Janney1987-19990.988
QuantHockey.com

Kane finished the season with 106 points to become the first American-born player to earn the Art Ross Trophy—he finished 17 clear of second-place Jamie Benn and with 21 more than Sidney Crosby. Despite a litany of injuriessuperstars Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa have both missed extended time, and Keith served a six-game suspensionKane’s dynamic offense pushed the Blackhawks back to the postseason for the eighth straight year.

Yet, this season has been a unique one for both Kane and the Hawks. They’ve quickly moved on from a tumultuous offseason involving Kane—who had been investigated for an alleged sexual assault in his hometown. Though he was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Erie County district attorney and did not face any discipline from the league, the team’s image took a hit after a controversial press conference at the outset of training camp.

Yet, Kane’s success this season on the ice has left all that in the dust. Despite the fact he is playing with his third different center in as many seasons, spending the bulk of his minutes with 27-year-old Artem Anisimov, the Hawks have turned that into a positive too. Together, that duo has turned left winger Artemi Panarin into the favorite to claim the Calder Trophy.

“He’s been a great fit for us,” Kane said of Panarin. “He’s kind of one of those players that maybe exceeded some expectations coming in, but great find by the organization, and we’re happy to have him here.”

Kane and Artemi Panarin have formed a high-scoring duo.
Kane and Artemi Panarin have formed a high-scoring duo.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

But while Panarin is likely to bring home the Rookie of the Year at the annual NHL awards, Kane might need an entire room to house his accolades.

The 27-year-old finished with the NHL’s most points and is the favorite to win the Hart Trophy—a sign of USA Hockey’s continued emergence at the sport’s highest level. He’s the first American-born player to surpass 100 points since Doug Weight did so in 1995-96.

Toews has likened Kane’s ability to post points to a baseball player who sees only a few hittable pitches every night yet is not missing them. While attracting some of the sport’s top defenders—and whole five-man units aiming to slow him down—Kane is still posting points on a near-nightly basis.

“He might get one or two chances on some nights, but he doesn’t miss,” Toews said. “He’s capitalizing, so he’s ready to go, and he’s focused every single night, and sometimes that’s tough to do over an 82-game season.”

Kane’s work ethic is what has boosted him to a superstar level. It’s one thing to be a former No. 1 overall pick, but to remain an elite player in the ever-evolving NHL—which gets younger every day—takes both skill and hard work.

“We were fortunate to draft him,” Tallon said. “But he’s taken the ball and been the guy. He’s been terrific. It’s fun to see that, and I’m happy for the kid because I like him a lot. I like his family, and I’m proud of him.”

COLUMBUS, OH - JUNE 22:  2007 NHL Entry Draft first overall pick Patrick Kane poses for a photo with members of the Chicago Blackhawks staff on the draft stage during the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena on June 22, 2007 in Colu
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Kane has also managed to remain healthyno small feat for a player with a 5'11", 177-pound frame. In each of the last two seasons, he had suffered catastrophic injuries toward season’s end, including a broken clavicle that threatened to derail Chicago’s Cup campaign last season. Toews admitted the team should “knock on wood” that Kane continues to remain healthy during the postseason.

But when he's healthy, skill is the driver of Kane’s success. He is shifty and smooth with the puck, gliding at top speed with his head up and making plays to set up his teammates.

“I think he does a good job of keeping everyone else on the other team guessing what he’s going to do,” Toews said. “I think his entire career, that’s how he’s been able to buy himself time and space with the puck. He has his head up, and you try to check him, and he’s able to draw guys towards him and create open space for his teammates.”

It would have been easy for Kane to feel more pressure to produce, given the off-ice distractions—and this being the first of his massive eight-year, $84 million deal—but his ability to remain in the moment is of tantamount importance to his high-end skill. Some players grip their sticks too tightly when times get frenzied, yet Kane is calm, cool and collected. Perhaps that is why he’s posted 10 career game-winning goals in the playoffs, including the Cup clincher in overtime in 2010.

“I don’t know if you want to think about producing or scoring or things like that. Sometimes you get yourself in trouble,” Kane said. “So I think it’s better to play the game and try to create scoring chances and do what you can when you get the puck.”

The Hawks are constantly retooling, as their success coupled with a slow-rising salary cap has created a difficult marketplace for dynasties. Yet, with Kane at the forefront—with his brilliant skill and hockey mind leading the way—Chicago is poised to compete for the Cup for years to come.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. 

Pat Pickens has covered the NHL since 2012. His work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and NHL.com. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Pickens

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