Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane
, just 18 and the first-overall pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, seemed like a kid tagging along with Mike Modano, Phil Housley and Joe Mullen Wednesday morning in New York City.
Modano was making the rounds of media outlets while publicizing his quest to become the NHL’s all-time American scoring leader, passing Housley, who passed Mullen.
But Kane was anything but overmatched by the elite company. This summer, he's been front and center in helping the Blackhawks generate excitement for this season and has drawn high marks for his openness and willingness to work the publicity beat. Some players don't like it. Some accept the responsibility, but find it no fun to talk about themselves. Others embrace the interaction with the media. Kane is outgoing and handles the task easily.
"I like it," Kane said. "How could I not? These are three of the greatest American players of all time. Phil Housley played for my hometown Buffalo Sabres and was my coach on the American World Junior Team. Joe Mullen came out of New York City to become the first American to score 500 goals. And Mike Modano is my idol."
Kane was accompanied by his father, Pat Sr., a Buffalo auto dealer who has guided his son from his entry into house leagues at age seven.
"Pat played maybe 10 baseball games and some soccer and he can shoot a basketball, but it's been all hockey since he started," the father said. "Within a couple of years, he was playing on four teams. We were driving up to Hamburg one night. Pat had left one rink in his uniform with skate guards on and was changing his jersey when he asked what team was he playing for next, which jersey, and I realized things were getting a little out of control. We had to scale back. He was about 10 then.
"Even though he was getting good on travel teams, we always kept him in a house league because he could goof around and experiment with things and nobody would get upset. You know, you make a mistake in one of these travel leagues and half the parents want to die or something if the team loses. Too much pressure. In house league, he could try things and make mistakes. I think it really helped him develop."
The Kanes are well versed in hockey history. Pat Sr. recalled that Housley went directly from high school in Minnesota to the Buffalo Sabres.
"Same thing with our goalie, Tom Barrasso," Kane said. "He went from high school in Massachusetts right into the NHL."
"I remember when Joe Mullen scored his 500th goal," young Pat said. "It was a tip-in, past Patrick Roy. I was about 10 or 12 then and I wanted to be an American who scored 500 goals in the NHL. I learned a lot when Phil Housley was my coach at the World Junior Championship. We had a really interesting power play and it worked. He knows what he's talking about and he's a really nice guy. We had a lot of fun together.
"Mike Modano turned the USA on to loving hockey," he continued. "Mike is one of the first people that come to mind when you think about American hockey. He's always been one of my idols. The Blackhawks believe that Kane possesses the physical and mental tools that will allow him to be successful in the NHL right away.
"These guys are the face of USA Hockey. Hopefully, I'll be part of a generation, with Jack Johnson, Phil Kessel, Eric Johnson and a lot of other good players, who can carry that torch. We were talking about the 2010 Olympic team last night. Team USA should be really good and I hope I'm part of it. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury will be the leaders by then. We'll have a great team whether I'm on it or not."
Kane said he had a good conversation at Chicago’s prospects camp with Blackhawks coach Denis Savard, who stressed the need for Kane to work on his defense. Blackhawks GM Dale Tallon said Wednesday that Kane may play on a line this year with Jonathan Toews
, Chicago's first pick a year ago.
”I think he's got the ability to do it,” Tallon said. “I think we'll get 10 games and see how it goes. We're not going to ruin him. Obviously, we want to take special care and make sure that he is ready and not put him in over his head so he can lose his confidence or get hurt.
”I think this kid's going to surprise a lot of people,” Tallon continued. “He's had a great off-season. He was great in Lake Placid. Had a very good game for London on the weekend, scoring five goals. You know, put him with the right players, surround him with the right people, I think he can be successful right away. He does utilize other players, make other players around him better. But we'll keep a close eye on him in training camp and give him an opportunity during the season to play with some good players and see if he can play. We're hopeful he can stay with us. Like I said, I think it's a marathon and we're going to make sure we don't ruin him either.”
"That's great. I like playing with Jon and he's a very good two-way player," Kane said. "His defensive play is very good. Everything he does is good and he's thinking hockey all the time. You know, most linemates, when you come back to the bench, will say a couple of words, but Jon breaks down everything that happened on the shift, talks about what we can do the next time. It's non-stop and then you're back on the ice. He's the kind of player who will make a good captain because he thinks about every element of the game."
Mullen and Housley agreed that Kane will also be a good NHL player. Some people have expressed concern about his size. He's a boyish 5-foot-10 and 163 pounds. But he's always been small and he's always been successful.
"With the new style of play there's no hooking and grabbing and taking beatings in front of the net," Mullen said. "He'll be able to use his skills more than guys in the past."
"He played three years in the World Under-18s," Housley said. "That means he made the team twice as an under-aged player. Pat just has a knack for putting the puck in the net. He's got great hands and great lateral movement. He doesn't have a really hard shot but it's accurate and that's more important. He loves to win, who doesn't, but Pat has intensity. He put pucks in the net at the World Juniors that just made me shake my head. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He has all the skills to be a great player."