Just when it looked as though hockey was dead in the Windy City, there are signs of life in the Chicago Blackhawks organization thanks to the play of two Calder Trophy hopefuls, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Kane leads all rookies in most offensive categories including points, assists and shots. While a knee injury has sidelined Toews for a few weeks, Kane has kept up the torrid pace, with 45 points in just 50 games.
While Kane’s pace at nearly a point per game is impressive, even more impressive is the fact that he made the jump from juniors to the NHL at 18. Kane is one of just three 2007 draft picks to make the NHL this year, along with Sam Gagner (EDM) and David Perron (STL)
Kane made the jump after just one year of junior hockey that saw him score 145 points in 58 games and capture the OHL Rookie of the Year award. But as notable as these accomplishments are, Kane is quick to dismiss his transition from the OHL to the NHL as being anything special.
"I think with just the opportunities I’ve been given and obviously [the organization is] going to give a first overall draft pick a little more of a chance, but I got to play with some good players right off the bat and prove myself," he said. "I think a chance to play with a guy like Jonathan [Toews] and [Patrick Sharp] over here who’s a complete scorer it makes it easier for me. I don’t have to do much out there, just make plays and move the puck."
And that statement is typical Kane, a consummate team guy. He is quick to point out how hard the team and his linemates work and who can argue with that. His linemates do produce and the trio is responsible for 113 points and are three of the top four point scorers for the Hawks.
But also undeniable is Kane’s slick playmaking ability. He won the NHL’s Rookie of the Month award in October after scoring 16 points, the highest number since Teemu Selanne scored 20 in 1992. And while Kane is taking scoring among his childhood idols in stride, he said that his personal welcome to the NHL occurred earlier this season in a game against Detroit.
"I think my second game in the NHL we got into a shootout against Detroit. I’m from Buffalo and growing up there one of my idols was Dominik Hasek. I was the first shooter picked and I went down and beat Hasek. We won the game and I think it was first sellout crowd in the United Center in a couple years so that was fun to see and that was pretty much a welcome to the NHL for me."
He got a taste of the glitz and glamor of the NHL this past weekend, taking part in the All-Star festivities as a YoungStar. He had a welcome committee of about 30 fans meet him at baggage claim at the Atlanta airport, looking for his autograph.
And while Kane has done well, the Blackhawks as a whole have struggled with injuries including an injury to star Toews. Without Toews in the lineup, Kane admits that the Blackhawks have been forced to compensate, but the 2007 first overall draft pick has been pleased with the way his team has battled.
"[Toews] is a great player obviously, he’s just a complete player, he works so hard and you can’t replace a guy like that," Kane said. "But I think you look at our line-up and there’s some players that have been called up but have to prove their case that are trying to get in the line-up and this is a good chance for them to prove it. But as far as myself playing without him, it’s obviously different. I played with him the whole year and we like to use our speed and we seem to have some good chemistry out there."
But Toews injury isn’t the only injury the team has had to contend with. The team currently has six players on the IR and at one point had eight guys out of the line-up, and while this might devastate another team, Kane believes that this is a great opportunity for the team to pull together and create an identity.
"I think the focus is just to play hard every night and try to create an identity around the room that we’re hard-working team," he said. "We’re going to compete every night whoever we have in the line-up so I think that’s what we’re trying to prove right now. It’s not fun losing a lot, but hopefully we get some players back and they can help us out. If not then we’re just going to have to work even harder."
Kane holds a four-point lead over Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom in rookie scoring, making Kane the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy.