The Blackhawks and their fans have been waiting. Waiting for a contender. Waiting for a star to lead us out of the wilderness. I think we've finally found him.
Despite missing 16 games due to a knee injury, and despite only playing 37 NHL games (as of this writing), I'm ready to declare Jonathan Toews as the player to lead us all to the promised land.
Too early? Maybe I'm too late.
Everyone who has seen this guy play has declared him as tough a competitor as you'll find. He won me over with one simple line after a tough loss earlier this season, "We have to hate to lose more."
For years I've been waiting for an athlete to say that instead of its mirror opposite, "We love to win." News flash: Everyone loves to win. In this day and age it takes a special athlete to declare how much losing hurts.
And it's not just talk. This is the sort of guy, I think, who teammates will eventually not want to let down. His leadership and desire will be infectious. It'll take time, as not many teenagers can command a team, but sooner rather than later the Hawks will fall in line with Toews.
It doesn't hurt that he's a pretty darn good player as well. I thought his return to the lineup after missing 16 games was nothing short of fantastic! He won draws, drew penalties and set up the Hawks' first goal in Vancouver.
He and Patrick Sharp developed a chemistry before the injury and they didn't miss a beat with the time away. Despite the missed time, he may still be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year.
The thing I like about him the most is that he seems like the type who simply won't be denied. He goes after it. The great players in the league are highly skilled, of course, but the very best on offense have an aggression to their game that doesn't show up in the box score. You have to see it with your eyes.
Crosby and Malkin have it. So does Ovechkin. I see that in Toews, and he does it on both ends of the ice.
It's interesting to watch the maturing of both Pat Kane and Toews and what makes them different. Kane seems to be the classic follower -- and I say that without any negative bent. He does his job and will play hard, but he's not the type to put his foot down when things go south.
Toews is. And, again, he's so young that to command much from a ten-year veteran teammate let alone, say, a 22 year-old, would be a little tough right now.
As a fan, part of the fun is to watch the process unfold. To see a competitive rookie turn into a mature leader will be as enjoyable as anything on the ice. Nothing is fated and without the use of a crystal ball I can't say the Hawks are going to win a Cup because Toews takes them there. All we can do is make a judgment based on what we see.
Based on what I see, that Cup thing may become a reality with the help of number 19.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to "Inside the Hawks" with Jesse and special Hawk guests Thursdays from 8-9 pm on WSCR 670-AM.