Leading up to the 2012-13 season, Patrick Kane was simply an enigma from a fantasy standpoint.
In four of his first five NHL seasons, Kane has played in 80-plus games. In all but one of those five seasons, he's mustered 200-plus shots on goal. He's never had fewer than 66 points in a season and is regarded as one of the most talented forwards League-wide. In only his third NHL season, he fueled a Stanley Cup championship run for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10 with 28 points in 22 postseason games.
At that time, Kane was on the fast track to stardom. So why was he selected on average in the third round of fantasy drafts entering this season with an average position of 32.8 in Yahoo leagues?
The answer to that question is clear, as fantasy owners began to doubt Kane after dips in production in consecutive seasons. Kane followed up a career-best 88 points in 2009-10 (82 games) with a slight drop-off in 2010-11 (73 points in 73 games), before posting a career-low 66 in 2011-12 (82 games).
It's not that Kane was no longer a productive fantasy asset, but rather that he fell short of the lofty expectations surrounding him.
But the past few weeks have been a different story for the 24-year-old, as he's been at the forefront of the fantasy MVP discussion as we reach the quarter mark of the NHL season. What started with a two-point showing in the Blackhawks' season-opening win over the defending champion Los Angeles Kings has escalated into the consistent fantasy production owners have desired for years.
The dual-eligible forward has reeled off nine goals (T-2nd in NHL) and 19 points (2nd) in 12 games, sporting the League's eighth-best shooting percentage (27.3). If this season was a 82-game slate as opposed to 48, Kane would be one of only four players on pace for 60-plus goals -- with Thomas Vanek, Patrick Marleau and David Clarkson being the others. He's seeing more time per game with the man advantage (3:43) compared to the past three seasons and has already produced half the power-play points (six PPP in 2012-13) that he did all of last season (12 in 2011-12).
Chicago owns the best record in the NHL (10-0-2), and coach Joel Quenneville's ability to balance ice time for his top-six forwards is a huge reason why.
Kane is operating on the team's second line with Patrick Sharp and Dave Bolland, while the team's top line consists of Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and rookie Brandon Saad. But all that matters for fantasy owners is that the team's top four assets (Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Kane) have answered the bell with over 10 points apiece already this season.
So, considering he wasn't a first or second-round pick in most drafts, owners of Kane should sit tight and enjoy the ride. Because, after all, he's been the most pleasant surprise by far among the League's top-five scorers to date.
Follow Pete Jensen on Twitter: @NHLJensen
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