EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The chip on Patrick Kane's shoulder isn't visible like the new thin scar he's sporting above his upper lip, but it's there and it's big.
The Chicago Blackhawks oft-criticized yet gifted right wing appears to be on a mission this season to prove to himself as much as anybody else that he can be and should be viewed as one of the elite players in the National Hockey League.
It's a mission born out of Kane's realization that expectations may have begun to weigh him down when they really should be propping him up.
"I feel like I have something to prove," Kane bluntly told NHL.com following the Blackhawks final tuneup before the season opener Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.
"I'm 24 years old and probably haven't reached my peak, which in my sixth year in the League people probably expected that to come already," he continued. "I guess I want to prove to people I can be up there in the upper echelon of players. I know some may view me there already, but I feel there is more to give.
"I have always had high expectations for myself. I don't feel I've reached them yet. That's a good thing."
Sure Kane has been a star since breaking into the League with a boyish grin and a lot of flair, not to mention his 72 points in 82 games, five-and-a-half years ago. But since scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching overtime goal in 2010, Kane has been trending slowly in the wrong direction.
His on-ice production has gradually slipped, from 88 points and a Stanley Cup championship in 2009-10 to 66 points and a first-round exit last season -- a level both he and the Blackhawks feel is not worthy of his talent.
His off-ice activities have been called into question.
"It's my fault, but you kind of feel like you're invincible after a season like that (2009-10)," Kane said. "It's kind of brought me down to earth, the last couple of seasons."
Kane even became the subject of trade rumors last summer. He knows they were just that, rumors, but as much as he tried to ignore them he still had to answer for them, mostly to friends and family who were curious about how something that was seemingly going so well could all of a sudden be close to exploding.
You can imagine how fun that was for him.
"They're always going to tell you about it and ask you what it's all about. It gets to you a little bit," Kane said. "I mean, I'm so content in Chicago that it's tough to think of leaving, especially after all that has been accomplished here. You hear those things and it's almost like you have even more to prove."
Kane, though, isn't just talking here. These aren't just words.
For example, he went through the six-day training camp sporting an attitude, approach and demeanor that coach Joel Quenneville said has been noticeable for all the right reasons.
Kane so far has practiced and prepared with an intensity that, according to Chicago center Dave Bolland, suggests "He wants to be the guy."
"Kaner knows what he can do out there and he can do a lot of damage, and you can tell since training camp began that he is more focused and he is more ready," Bolland told NHL.com. "I think he's ready for this year. It's a good thing for me playing with him. He's a tremendous player and he looks more focused."
In what ways?
"Kaner looks like he is shooting the puck better than we've ever seen him and he looks like he's quick," Quenneville said. "Whether it's on the ice or just walking around, his focus is in the right place. I think you can measure that over time, but we like the commitment, the focus and the preparation that he's put forward here."
Some of that quickness and preparation has to do with how Kane used the lockout to his advantage.
Like many other players, he went overseas to play. However, Kane, who played in Switzerland, brought his mom with him and did not lavish himself with anything that would interfere with the reason he was there, which was to play hockey.
He was, if you can imagine this for Kane, kind of boring.
"Grow as an individual … is something we've seen in him," Quenneville said.
The next thing they need to see is more production, especially on the power play, where Kane was limited to 12 points last season, half as many as he had in 2010-11 in nine fewer games.
As a result, the Blackhawks' power play was 26th in the League (15.1 percent). It was similarly lifeless in the playoffs (1-for-19), a major reason the Phoenix Coyotes wiped out Chicago in six games, with the first five decided in overtime.
Kane had four assists but no goals in the series. He didn't have a point in the final three games.
"As an offensive guy you always want to put up big numbers, big stats, and I feel my game is pretty close," Kane said. "I played pretty well for the most part last year, but I could have done more. I'm excited to prove that this year."
He can start on Saturday.
"It's probably as focused as I've ever been as far as coming into a season," Kane said.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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