CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane's first reaction is to laugh when he hears people talking about the perceived maturity and growth he's shown both at the rink and away from the ice this season.
"I don't understand how they would say that or how they would know that," Kane told NHL.com Friday from United Center, where the Chicago Blackhawks will go for a record 17th straight game with a point to start the season against the San Jose Sharks. "I think there are spots where I have to watch myself a little bit more, that's for sure, but when I'm at the rink, when people see me, I'm definitely the same kid so I really don't know where that comes from."
Others will attest to the fact that Kane is, indeed, the same fun-loving and free-wheeling guy he was when he first entered the League five-and-a-half years ago as an 18-year-old No. 1 draft pick.
Sharks forward Adam Burish, who remains close to Kane after the two played together in Chicago for parts of four seasons, had perhaps the strongest comments about the public perception of Kane, who leads the Hawks with 22 points in 16 games, putting him on pace for 66 points in 48 games; the same amount of points he had in 82 games last season.
"Everybody else is saying, 'Oh, he's a different player.' He's not," Burish told NHL.com. "He wants to be the best in the League every year, and he can be. He's a dynamic player and he's proud. When people write stuff about him that us people who know him closely read, it hurts. People think it doesn't bother him. It does. It hurts, and it hurts us to read about it because we know that's not who he is. He's an elite player."
The difference -- and it's notable, according to Olczyk and Kane himself -- is how Kane has been going about his business this season knowing full well the spotlight is on him and his team, and the pressure to perform is still as high as it always has been.
Olczyk, who has two kids Kane's age, said the Blackhawks' star is, simply put, "becoming a man."
"He's still a fun guy to be around, but you can just tell that there is a sort of grown-up-ness about him that I think is going to bode well," Olczyk said. "There's just no doubt."
"If you look at everyday 18-to-22 year olds, those kids are in college without a care in the world," added Sharks forward Tim Kennedy, whose relationship with Kane traces back to their days as kids in Buffalo. "It happens. People grow up."
Kane's growth is paying significant dividends for himself and the Blackhawks. He's been a driving force behind the Blackhawks' 13-0-3 start. Kane not only leads the team with 22 points, he has at least one point in all but two games this season and seven multi-point games.
Olczyk said Kane has been noticeably more aggressive, and commented about how he's changed from the pass-first player he was when he came into the League into a shoot-first guy now.
Not everything is going on net, but he's been a pretty good marksman at 21.4 percent (9-for-42). His career-best shooting percentage is 12.5 percent.
"He wants the puck. It seems like he has it a lot of times and he's dangerous," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think he's skating better and shooting the puck as well as I've ever seen him shoot it."
Kane still thinks he did some good things last season, too, but while most players in the NHL would take 66 points over an 82-game season, for him it wasn't even close to good enough. There was a lot of talk in Chicago and across the League about his lack of production.
Olczyk chalks some of it up to the fact that Kane was moved to center for a portion of the season and was worn out by the end.
"Physically he got worn out and didn't have anything left in the tank," Olczyk said. "He's not a center. He's not."
Not long after the Blackhawks were eliminated from the playoffs, Kane was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons due to pictures that surfaced of him at a Cinco de Mayo party in Madison, Wisc.
The Blackhawks publicly condemned his behavior in Madison, as general manager Stan Bowman said the organization was "disappointed" with Kane. There was some talk in this town of the team potentially looking to trade Kane, but the Blackhawks never admitted to that.
"It's a different era with social media, camera phones, everything," Kane said. "This is the first time someone has really gone through all of that and you don't really have anyone to reflect on or anyone to give you advice. It's something you have to learn as you go, but I'm trying my best."
One way Kane has tried to move on from that experience is to reflect on what got him to the NHL. He admitted that alone has affected how he's playing and acting.
"I tried to look back a little bit when I was a kid and playing my best, having the most success or when I was at the U.S. program, what I did there to have success," Kane said. "Mostly, I was just focused on hockey and not really anything else, maybe not even school. I just love the game, being at the rink, practicing. I have a chance to do that now for a living, so might as well take advantage of it."
So much so that Kane admits he's even somewhat out of touch with what is happening in the rest of the world.
"I try not to look too much," he said. "You hear different things, but to be honest with you a regular day would be going home, making sure I'm eating right, taking a nap, maybe going to dinner, hanging out with my girlfriend. That seems like it's pretty much an everyday occurrence, but it's fine with me."
How is that different than before?
"It's definitely more peaceful and relaxing now," he said, smiling. "It keeps me at ease."
The Blackhawks like it that way.
"His play speaks for itself," Sharp told NHL.com.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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