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Raising Kane

by Van Oler / Chicago Blackhawks
Buffalo-born player brings goals, grit

If you want to play pro hockey and the first digit in the column that notes your height isn’t a ‘6,’ you’d better have some extra goodies in your equipment bag.

You’d better have hands nimble enough to weave an Oriental rug and enough sand in your game to make opponents hate to play against you. You'd better make sure your lack of ‘verticality’ doesn’t result in you becoming a timid perimeter player quickly dismissed by scouts and coaches as ‘skilled but soft.’

You must skate fast enough to get to the net and be tough enough to linger there.

Patrick Kane heard the ‘yer too small’ comments for years but was wise enough to ignore them. At 7:06 pm (EDT) on Friday, June 22, the Blackhawks confirmed that the numbers on the stats sheet speak louder than the ones on the bio sheet as they made Kane the first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH.

Kane is a goal scoring machine, first and foremost. As the independent scouting service Red Line Report dryly notes, Kane “scores more than Paris Hilton in prison.”

As a rookie with the London Knights in 2006-07, he tallied 62 goals and accumulated 145 total points in just 58 games to lead both the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the entire Canadian major junior hockey network in scoring.

He was no less successful in his debut on international ice, collecting nine points for the bronze-medal winning U.S. team at the 2007 World Junior Championships.

Not bad for a player who (a) won’t turn 19 until November, and (b) is the shortest and lightest player of the more than 400 ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service in preparation for the Entry Draft.

“Watching him play in the World Juniors was what really convinced us that Kane was the player we wanted,” said general manager Dale Tallon, whose bearing and demeanor on Friday night could most accurately be described as ‘triumphant.’

“That’s a tough tournament to play in for an 18 year old. [2006 Blackhawks draft choice] Jonathan Toews was the best player in that tournament and Kane was the second best.”

As for the sand, Kane has had two exceptional mentors in that realm the last two years. In 2005-06, he played for the U.S. National Training Development Program squad and while doing so lived with Pat Verbeek, another 5’9” guy who was told he was too small to play.

Blackhawk fans will be delighted to recall that Verbeek had a 21-season NHL career and made the All-Nickname team when teammates tagged him the ‘Little Ball of Hate,’ which in the realm of pro hockey is a compliment of the highest order.

Kane’s other ‘sandman’ would be his London Knights coach, Dale Hunter, who amassed a staggering 3,500 penalty minutes in 20 NHL seasons. Sand-free players need not apply to teams coached by Hunter.

Will Kane be a Blackhawk in 2007 or will he return to the Knights for another season in the OHL?

“We’ll see what happens,” said Kane during a post-draft interview to a microphone and camera cluster much larger than that usually found in front of a Blackhawk player.

“I will work hard this summer to give myself every opportunity to make the team. It’s time to prove myself at the next level.”

Kane is all too aware that recent first picks haven’t just made their NHL teams quickly; they have quickly made their NHL teams better.

“It’s unbelievable to be part of this group (of first overall selections),” he said. “Guys like Vincent Lecavalier, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby... they’re taking over the league.

"Right now, I have to focus on trying to impress the people in the Chicago organization.”

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