The Vancouver Giants have made a habit in recent years of developing some of the top junior hockey talent in the country. From Gilbert Brule and Mark Fistric to Cody Franson and Milan Lucic, many Giants alumni have set forth a path for the youngsters to follow.
Enter Evander Kane, perhaps the top forward in the WHL among 2009 NHL Entry Draft eligible players. The native of Vancouver, B.C., Kane is ranked eighth overall by the International Scouting Services. In its preliminary WHL fall rankings, Central Scouting has pegged Kane as the league’s top forward and second overall prospect.
“Evander is a competitive young man who really enjoys playing the game,” said Giants head coach Don Hay. “He wants the puck at critical times and he wants to make a difference.
Indeed, Kane has had a huge impact on a Giants team that burst out of the gate this season with an 18-1-0-3 record through 22 games. Kane collected at least one point in each of his first 21 games, totaling 15 goals, 22 assists and a plus-17 ranking before the consecutive game scoring streak was stopped by the Tri-City Americans. Through 26 games on the season, Kane has 18 goals and 24 assists
“He has been very consistent for us this season,” Hay said. “I mean every game he’s around the puck making things happen and he’s scoring for us. To do that every game is tough to do.”
Kane, who is an upbeat and well-spoken representative for the WHL’s top team, understands his role and the expectations.
“My job here is to produce offensively and I think the team and the coaches know that is what I have to do,” Kane said. “I also put the additional pressure on myself to do that every night. Again, I like to have a big role on any team and I think it’s going to be a challenge as we move into the rest for the season.”
International hockey experience
Kane was selected to Team WHL for the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge, although a heel bruise/ankle injury prevented him from participating. The 6’, 165-pounder, was one of three 1991-born players named to the team, which is generally a mix of older Hockey Canada prospects vying for the annual WJC. Brayden Schenn (Brandon Wheat Kings) and Jared Cowen (Spokane Chiefs) are the other 17-year-olds who played in the ADT games in Swift Current and Prince Albert.
Although inured, Kane indicated he has enjoyed his Hockey Canada experiences to date.
“Hockey Canada provides a great program and I was fortunate to play in the U17 tournament and the U18 tournament overseas,” Kane said. “I had a lot of fun and it’s great to play with the maple leaf on your chest. Hopefully I can earn an invitation to the WJC tryout.”
Kane’s absence from the ADT Challenge games this year is reminiscent of another highly touted WHLer who was unable to participate in an important exhibition for top junior players. Just a few days prior to the 2008 Top Prospects Game in Edmonton, Everett Silvertips forward Kyle Beach suffered a concussion and was unable to play.
The WHL schedule was quiet during the short break for the ADT Challenge in November, one of a few opportunities for high-end athletes players to compete against other top players in their age group. Many CHL teams lose their top players to these events, particularly in late December and early January during the WJC. Hay has seen it all for years and wholeheartedly accepts the reality because he believes the opportunities enhance player development.
“It makes the player better, being able to play with the elite within your age group,” Hay said. “To go to the ADT Challenge, WJC tryouts and U18 teams means Evander is going to come back to us a better player. From our perspective, we endorse the programs. We also see it as an opportunity for our players to move up and see ice time and develop more quickly. We’re all for it.”
Despite his injury, Kane was among the 38 players selected to attend the Hockey Canada camp in December where the National Junior Team will be chosen for the 2009 WJC.
An early start in the WHL
Aside from his international experiences, Kane says he has been fortunate to participate in the successes the Giants have achieved in recent years. The organization won a WHL championship and traveled to the Memorial Cup in 2006. The next season, the Giants hosted a won the national title.
“I was able to play a few regular season games as a 15-year-old and then a couple when my midget season was over,” Kane said. “And then I dressed for five playoff games and two at the Memorial Cup (in Moncton).
“I had some experience in some big time games playing in the Memorial Cup when I was 15. Going into my 16-year-old year, coming off that kind of experience helped me a lot to start the year well and as the year went on I got better and had a chance to play with some good players. I learned a lot from good leaders like Spencer Machacek and Mario Bliznak and it’s made me a better player this year.”
As a 16-year-old, Kane scored 24 goals, 17 assists and compiled a plus-20 ranking. His performance resulted in high expectations for the current campaign, an important year for Kane as an NHL Entry Draft eligible junior. The importance of playing well under close scrutiny is not lost on his coach, as Hay has seen numerous players over the years develop as juniors and move on to professional hockey.
“It’s tough for guys in their 17-year-old year, because I think they face a lot more pressure,” Hay said. “There’s always that pressure to perform, they’re being watched all the time. Whatever they do, good or bad, they’re getting evaluated.
“The 17-year-old year is a tough one. It can be tough for a guy to come in and perform to his potential. Evander is a guy who had a great 16-year-old year and has been able to carry that into this season. I think that shows that as a top player, the players who go early in the draft, they are certainly special players. They prove that they have been able to withstand the type of pressure that comes with being watched all the time and performing at a high level.”
The scouts are watching
The presence of NHL scouts is just part of the gig for Kane this season. He is comfortable with the expectations and confident in his ability.
“I like to bring an offensive part to the game,” Kane said. “I’m on the team to score goals and contribute offensively. I like to bring a physical element and you can’t be afraid to go into the corners and battle and I like to go hard.”
Bruce Haralson is a veteran NHL scout with a crystal clear opinion on Kane’s skill set.
“What’s impressive to me is that he doesn’t necessarily dominate with the puck,” Haralson said. “He’s not a highly skilled guy who hangs onto the puck forever. He just has that innate sense of timing and gets to the holes. He has pure goal-scoring instincts.”
A key contributor to Kane’s success last season and this year is linemate Casey Pierro-Zabotel (PIT), who arrived in Vancouver after a stint in the BCHL with the Merritt Centennials. Chosen in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Pierro-Zabotel arrived in Vancouver and clicked immediately with Kane as a member of the Giants.
“When he came over from Junior ‘A’ just before Christmas last season, we got to play together,” Kane said. “We pretty much played together all last season and I think there is some good chemistry there. And heading into this season, we got back together and everything has gone very well so far.”
The Quotable Evander Kane
On the grind of a 72-game WHL schedule…
“It’s always a tough season, you know we play the longest schedule in the CHL. There’s lots of travel and some 12-hour bus trips here and there. Again, it’s part of the season and you have to get used to it. As a team I think we’ve done a god job so far. We have a lot of games in January and February and it’ll be a grind.”
On being interviewed by the Atlanta Thrashers, where he would potentially become an important role model in the heavily African-American city…
“I did speak with Atlanta. And I suppose going to the United States, of course there are a lot of African Americans. But I would be happy to play anywhere in the NHL. If it were Atlanta, well yes, you’re correct on that note and I guess that’s all part of the job and I would be very happy doing it.”
On what keeps him busy away from the rink…
“I just like to rest because it’s a long season. I like movies, it’s nice see one maybe every couple of weeks but even that can be tough when you’re busy. I enjoy music and even PlayStation. I don’t get to play too much golf, but for sure in the summer, it’s a cool hobby. I play some tennis too.”