CHICAGO -- It's the kind of talk that, frankly, Chicago Blackhawks fans have longed to hear from star forward Patrick Kane.
Despite having surgery to fix a broken bone in his wrist this summer, Kane is anxious to make good on a vow he made at the end of last season, after the Hawks were eliminated in overtime of Game 7 in a classic first-round series against the Vancouver Canucks.
Sporting a black eye that was the result of a big hit in that final game, Kane said last spring that he would concentrate his offseason on getting into tip-top shape and doing whatever it took to help him become an "elite" NHL player. Some might see his 73 points (27 goals, 46 assists) in 73 regular-season games last season and 103 goals and 303 points in 317 NHL games over four seasons as impressive ... but he feels those numbers are not good enough to make him "elite."
"It's kind of crazy to think that I'm still 22 and I'm going into my fifth season," Kane mused during Friday's media day after the Hawks underwent fitness testing. "Time has been flying by, and I think it's about that time to really take that next step up to the elite level. It seems like everyone's been saying that to me this summer ... 'All right, you've done well your first four years. Now let's really take that step to the next level and become one of the best players in the League.' That's what I want to do still."
It's going to take more than just bumping up his offensive numbers, too.
Kane, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, also aims to be more consistent from game to game and pick up the intensity in the defensive zone -- something critics have harped about ever since he entered the League.
"There was times last year where I had good stretches and runs, but I think the year before I probably controlled games a little bit more and had the puck on my stick a little bit more," said Kane, who is still wearing a protective brace on his wrist as a precaution. "An elite player, in my mind, is playing well defensively in my own end, trying to get a lot of takeaways, scoring more goals on the power play, having the puck a lot throughout the game -- every game -- and just being more consistent. I don't want to have the ups and downs that I've had ... pretty much throughout my four years. I want to be consistent throughout the year. It's more than (scoring) points. It's more about controlling the game and creating more chances."
While Kane hasn't said he's a changed person off the ice, his actions since last season ended have said a lot on their own. He hasn't joked around as much with reporters during interviews lately, and his work in the weight room was evident by how he looked at the Hawks' fan convention in July.
Kane said his conditioning hit a snag at that point because of the surgery he had the following week, but it's hard to miss his renewed focus and intensity heading into this season. It's to the point where Blackhawks officials have already talked with him to explain why they want him to take it a little slower than he'd like to start the preseason -- possibly even missing a couple of exhibition games. Kane said if it were the middle of the season he'd probably be playing, but the cautious approach is the one they want him to take for now.
It's not of his own choosing, however.
"He wants to go full tilt right away," Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman said. "It's one of those things where his injury has healed very well and we're right on track with that, so at this point we're going to play it cautiously. But he's going to be participating in (practices) and he's eager to get out there and do his thing. I would say he's on a mission to have a really great season this year. We've spoken about it and he's looking forward to showing us what he can do."
What he can do, said Bowman, is something that not many players in the League have the natural ability to do. Simply put, Kane can dominate a game.
"When you hear a young player who's achieved what he has, say that he wants to be even better -- that just goes to shows you the motivation he has to be the best in the League," Bowman said. "For a player like Patrick, he's an offensive player, so that would translate into being even more dominant than he is. He plays his best under pressure, so when he says he wants to get to the next level it would be just to (become) dominant in every game. If he puts his mind to it, I would bet he's going to achieve that."
If he does, it can only mean good things for the Hawks -- who used their lengthy summer break to heal wounds, add some veteran faces to the locker room and come back recharged for another run at the Cup. If Kane is out front helping captain Jonathan Toews lead the charge, Chicago should be an elite team in the Western Conference once again.
That's the most exciting part for Toews when asked about Kane's motivation boost.
"It's great to hear him talk about taking strides," Toews said, smirking. "He's growing up ... our little Kaner. That's good."
The comment brought about some chuckles, but the more Toews talked about it, the more it became apparent just how similar he and Kane actually are -- at least in their competitiveness.
"I'm sure a lot of people out there consider (Kane) an elite player already, but for a guy like him -- and even myself -- we've been in the same boat for four years now," said Toews, 23, who was taken third overall by Chicago in the 2006 draft. "There's a lot of things out there that motivate certain players to bring their game to the next level. For the two of us ... it's not about all that other stuff. To us, it's hockey. It's been the same way all our lives and up to this point we've always wanted to be the best out there. So, obviously he's got that same motivation that he wants to take his game up to the next level."
Look out for Chicago if he accomplishes the goal.
"At the end of the day, the most satisfying thing in this game is when your team has success," Toews added. "But there's always that drive to better yourself ... and at the end it only helps your team."
That's what the Hawks are banking on.