We all know Patrick Kane should be living high on the hog right now. Or at least high on the chicken wing.
After all, he’s the most recent winner of the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year and was a member of the NHL’s All-Rookie Team.
He was the leading scorer for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, setting a club record for assists by a rookie. And remember, this franchise has seen its share of Hall of Fame scorers – like Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Denis Savard – so setting records isn’t easy.
Thus, you would have expected to see a little strut in Kane’s step, an “I’m-on-top-of-the-world” air about him when he returned home to South Buffalo for the summer.
Yeah, right. Who are we trying to kid?
One thing about Kane: He’s apparently never going to forget where he came from or how he got to where he is.
Things like the sacrifices made by family, from father Pat and mother Donna, to sisters Erica, Jessica and Jacqueline. The true-to-his roots upbringing. The simple-pleasures approach to life.
Such as lounging around his parent’s house for much of the summer.
“It’s funny how the days fly by when you’re just hanging out with your buddies,” said Kane, who won’t turn 20 until Nov. 19. “It’s so nice to wake up and have your mom make you breakfast.
“I’ve been going pretty hard the last three or four years. It was good to actually have some down time this summer. It was good to be a normal kid again.”
A normal kid who just happens to be one of the NHL’s most dynamic young stars. Kane scored 21 goals, 51 assists and 72 points without missing any of the Blackhawks’ 82 games last season.
And to think he was actually cut from a team once. Not when he was 7 or 8 years old, either. Back then, he always played up a level in Buffalo’s youth hockey programs.
No, the slight – over oversight – took place just three summers ago, when he was 16. Kane was not included on the initial list of invitees to Ann Arbor, Mich., for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
“Hockey’s been my life since I was 7 years old. When people say, ‘You have the best life,’ I agree. I think it’s a privilege to play hockey.”
“It was kind of hard to really understand,” Kane said. “I think they thought I was going to go to the [Ontario Hockey League]. Then someone else couldn’t make the commitment [to the NTDP] and they called me. We [he and his family] were like, ‘They want to call now? We’re not going.’
“But then you think about it and realize what it means. You’re surrounded by the best players in the United States at your age level. You train every day and work out on the ice for 2 or 2½ hours. They prepare you for the next level.”
It turned out to be a good move for all concerned as Kane left Ann Arbor as the second all-time leading scorer, and his 52 goals and 102 points during the 2005-06 season are still the benchmark for the program.
Now he’s on his way to being one of the very best players in the world’s best league. Coming off his sensational rookie season, the Blackhawks want even more.
“They mentioned in our one-on-one meetings that they’re expecting a big year out of me,” Kane said. “They were saying top 10 in points, if not top 5.”
Why not? If Kane could razzle and dazzle at 163 pounds, imagine what he can do now that his 5-foot-10 frame now packs 175 or so pounds.
“The thing is, he just got better as the season went along,” Blackhawks general manager Dale Tallon said. “The last six weeks, when, because of his size, you’d have thought he’d wear out, he just got stronger.”
Over the summer, so did the Blackhawks. They added defenseman Brian Campbell and goalie Cristobal Huet on the first day of free agency.
“Growing up in Buffalo our whole life, the Sabres have never done a lot over the years in free agency so it was exciting for us to be active,” Kane said. “When you see free-agent signings like that, you’re excited.”
Kane did his part in recruiting Campbell, a long-time Sabres blueliner.
“He wants the puck in those big-game situations, and it’s pretty cool to see.”
“I ran into him in London [Ontario] over the summer and told him, ‘We’d love to have you in Chicago,’ ” Kane said. “He’s such a good player, especially for our team and our needs. We struggled on the power play.
“I told him I think I should get three percent of his contract for being his agent.”
Kane is already envisioning the magic they might work on the power-play rush.
“I like to carry the puck in and curl back and hit the defenseman late,” Kane said. “He’ll be able to make some plays, I’m sure, either going backdoor or shooting off the drop pass.”
The Blackhawks already were on the rise with Kane, fellow rookie star Jonathan Toews, defensemen Brent Seabrook (23) and wingers Martin Havlat (27) and Patrick Sharp (26). Then came the free-agent splash.
Finally, hockey matters again in Chicago. (See related Story on Page 35.)
“There are a lot of expectations for our team, and that’s exciting,” Kane said. “We went from having 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 fans at games at the beginning of last year to selling out games this year already.
“We want to be a playoff contender and a Cup contender. Pretty much our core players are under 30.”
From the bench, coach Denis Savard can perhaps see a little of himself in Kane. Oh, there’s no spin-o-rama in Kane’s repertoire, but there are similarities to be sure.
“They both have incredible hands,” Tallon said. “ ‘Savvy’ was maybe a little better one-on-one, but as far as being able to distribute the puck and see the ice, it’s easy to make comparisons.”
What Kane wants to clone from Savard is the excitement of the Windy City on a hockey night in the 1980s. Night after night those Blackhawks – with Savard, Steve Larmer, Al Secord, Doug Wilson, Tony Esposito and Curt Fraser – would have fans in a frenzy at old Chicago Stadium.
There was no better scene in hockey in the early 1980s than when the Blackhawks clashed in the playoffs year after year with the Minnesota North Stars, who featured Dino Ciccarelli, Bobby Smith, Craig Hartsburg and Al MacAdam.
“That’s what we’re trying to do now,” Kane said. “To be part of an Original Six team is so exciting, and we want to make the United Center even better than old Chicago Stadium was when it got rockin’ and rollin’.”
Kane would love for that rivalry to be with the Detroit Red Wings. Last season, when the young Blackhawks played the Cup-champs-to-be Red Wings, Kane was nearly always at his best.
In the eight-game regular-season series against the Wings, Kane scored three goals and assisted on five. He was even in plus/minus. In the final week of the season, he scored two goals and two assists in two games against Detroit.
“We want to make the United Center even better than old Chicago Stadium was when it got rockin’ and rollin’.”
“We were always out against [Nicklas] Lidstrom and his D-partner,” Kane said, “and [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg. That’s the Norris Trophy winner, the Selke winner and a Selke finalist.
“I figure if I can average a point a game against them, I should be able to do it against anybody.”
The ready-for-the-challenge attitude is a trait Tallon saw in Kane when he was making the decision on who to select with the first overall pick in 2007.
“He’s not afraid of anything,” Tallon said. “He goes into tall trees to get the puck. Somehow he can leverage himself next to those big guys and still get the puck.
“He wants the puck in those big-game situations, and it’s pretty cool to see.”
Having Havlat healthy will make Kane more dangerous. Since joining the Blackhawks in a five-player trade in the summer of 2006, the multi-talented left-winger has single-handedly provided job security for the training staff and team orthopedist. Havlat played only 91 of a possible 164 games the last two seasons because of various injuries, and in February underwent shoulder surgery.
Tallon, however, says Havlat should be 100 percent by opening night.
“A healthy Marty Havlat can really help Patrick,” Tallon said. “Then it’s a ‘Pick your poison.’ Who do you want to key on if you’re the other team.”
If it’s Kane who must deal with a checking line, he’s ready.
“Hockey’s been my life since I was 7 years old,” he said. “When people say,
‘You have the best life,’ I agree. I think it’s a privilege to play hockey.”