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Kane's drive to learn, improve paved way to 400 goals for Blackhawks

32-year-old forward continues to work, draw from others as he closes in on 1,000 NHL games

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / Staff Writer

Patrick Kane has a habit of staying on the ice long after Chicago Blackhawks practice is finished.

The 32-year-old forward always is challenging a teammate to see who can score the most goals, always looking to pick something up from other players, always looking to improve his game.

That never-ending quest to better himself has launched Kane into an elite stratosphere among current NHL players. He scored his 400th NHL goal, against the Detroit Red Wings in a 7-2 victory at United Center on Sunday, becoming the ninth United States-born player to accomplish a feat that 100 players have reached in the history of the NHL.

Kane, one of eight active NHL players with at least 400 goals, still looks to other elite players across the NHL for skills he can incorporate into his game. 

During the offseason Kane attends camps held by noted skills coach Darryl Belfry and there he watches players like Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews for things he can appropriate. 

During Blackhawks practices, Kane's teammates are under the microscope, even rookie forwards Pius Suter and Philipp Kurashev

"Even as a veteran of the League, you can watch some of these young guys and still learn from them as well, especially when you look at young skill guys who are really hard on the puck and are able to win battles and create out of those battles," Kane said. "That's something I can add more to my game too."

Video: Celebrate Patrick Kane's path to 400 NHL goals

That's the thing with Kane, who is in his 14th season, all with the Blackhawks. He never stops experimenting, never stops thinking about his craft, even after playing in 996 NHL regular-season games, scoring 1,056 regular-season points (400 goals, 656 assists) and winning the Stanley Cup three times (2010, 2013, 2015).

"He's one of the hardest-working guys in our room and one of the most accomplished too," said Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, who plays on a line with Kane and Suter. "Pretty funny how those go together."

Kane has scored 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 23 games this season, tied for second in the NHL with Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl, trailing Connor McDavid (40 points) of the Oilers.

It is his best start since 2015-16, when he scored 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in his first 23 games and went on to win the Hart Trophy voted as NHL most valuable player. 

Could another Hart Trophy be in the future for Kane, who not only is scoring at an elite level, but has helped the Blackhawks move the focus from a potential rebuild to a possible spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Despite playing eight rookies, including No. 1 goalie Kevin Lankinen, and missing top-two centers Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach, the Blackhawks (12-7-4) are third in the Discover Central Division. The top four teams in each division qualify for the postseason.

"I don't know, I'm just trying to help the team as much as possible," Kane said. "The way I play, I feel I've had some pretty good seasons the last couple of years too. I'm just trying to get better each year, I guess. Still feel there are always things I can do better in a game and in the offseason."

In a career full of accomplishments, Kane is on the verge of reaching 1,000 NHL games played, becoming the first player from the 2007 NHL Draft to do so. Kane was the No. 1 pick in that draft.

"I feel he's continuously a top player in the League, so nothing new," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "He's been really good for us. He's finding a way to produce. His play away from the puck, he continues to set an example with his work ethic to get it back, create second and third chances."

Kris Versteeg, a forward who had two stints with the Blackhawks (2007-10 and 2013-15), said he remembers being impressed by Kane when the rookie reported for training camp for the 2007-08 season. Little had changed when Versteeg, on a one-year contract with Rockford, Chicago's affiliate in the American Hockey League, saw Kane in training camp three seasons ago. 

"He was 10-15 years ahead of his time in the sense that every kid coming into the game wants hands like Patrick Kane," Versteeg said. "He's revolutionized the entire game for the new player, and that's why he's so good still today, because he was basically playing today's game 15 years ago."

Video: DET@CHI: Kane toe drags and scores his 400th NHL goal

As a rookie, Kane was great on his edges, placing a spotlight on a more technical skating style and how it can provide benefits. He also displayed great hockey sense and quick hands, setting the standard for a new era of players who are dominating with speed and skill. Kane (5-foot-10, 177 pounds) showed a smaller player could excel in the NHL, providing a model for players like DeBrincat (5-7, 165) and Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau (5-9, 165). 

Versteeg, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015 and now is a commentator on Sportsnet, said he remembers calling Kane every June or July to see what he was doing. Kane always either was coming off the ice or going on it.

"I saw it in 2007-08, I saw it in 2015 and again when I came back for camp in 2018. He was still the same guy," Versteeg said. "He knew he was a superstar and there was a level of expectation he had to uphold, and he did it because he truly loves to do it."

The passion Kane possesses is a nightmare for those who must defend him on the ice.

Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said drawing up a plan against Kane is tricky. Quenneville should know; he coached Kane with the Blackhawks from 2008-18.

"I was the beneficiary of that for a long time," Quenneville said with a laugh. "I've watched him every single year get better and better, and it's hard to get better from the level he was at. But whatever he does in the offseason, he gets a little stronger, he gets a little bit quicker, he enhances his skills."

Bruce Boudreau, former coach of the Washington Capitals (2007-11), Anaheim Ducks (2011-16) and Minnesota Wild (2016-20), agrees. While with the Wild in 2019, Boudreau said Kane was like a water bug. 

"You cannot catch water bugs, they dart, they go left to right so quickly, that's what he's like," Boudreau said this week. "You know what he's going to do: he pulls up at the blue line, circles behind the defense, they want to give him the puck, but it doesn't matter. His hands are so quick. He's difficult to get the puck off of and he makes the great plays. He's not just a scoring guy. He can pass as well as anybody."

Kane showed how that dual threat can bedevil defenders during the Blackhawks' 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 19. Kane was on a 2-on-2 and Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce was taking away the passing lane. Kane executed a spin-o-rama and then launched a rising backhand shot that beat goaltender James Reimer past his blocker.

It was a goal that was equal parts power and finesse, the very definition of Kane's game throughout his career, even as players have gotten bigger and stronger.

Look at the players Kane is competing with at the top of the scoring list: McDavid (6-1, 193), Draisaitl (6-2, 208) and Matthews (6-3, 220). Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon (6-0, 200) was fifth in scoring last season with 93 points (35 goals, 58 assists) and has 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 17 games this season. Each is bigger and sturdier than Kane. 

"If you look at the stars right now, they seem to be bigger guys -- Matthews, McDavid, MacKinnon -- but Kane is still the little guy who dominates," Boudreau said. "He's just the little guy who nobody can touch."

Kane has long played at an elite level, and most see that continuing.

"He could truly play at a high level for sure until he's 40 and he could easily fill a power-play role in another seven or eight years from now, if that's what he wanted to do," Versteeg said. "The older you get, it just depends how much you want it a lot of the time too. It really depends on how much he wants it and how far he wants to go, but he could play well into his 40s."

Boudreau also isn't ready to put an expiration date on Kane's career, pointing to his versatility, as evidenced by the variety of linemates he has played with, including a successful two-season run with forward Artemi Panarin, who signed with the New York Rangers as a free agent on July 1, 2019. 

"He's been lucky to have Panarin for two years, he's played with Toews, they move him back and forth, but he's also played with the young guys and made them better," he said. 

"I find him remarkable."

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