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Kane happy to be center of attention

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- Sunday's news that Chicago Blackhawks star right wing Patrick Kane will get at least a brief look at center on the second line wasn't just a spur-of-the-moment hunch.

Rather, it was something the team's front office and coaching staff has kicked around for a while -- dating back to the summer. After centering the Hawks' second line between Andrew Brunette and Marian Hossa in a practice at the United Center on Monday, Kane told reporters that Hawks General Manager Stan Bowman approached him with the idea a couple months ago.

"Stan just came up to me and asked me over the summer," said Kane, who appeared a little unsure of the idea. "I said I'd be willing to try it if they wanted to. He didn't tell me why. He just said it was something they wanted to try."


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Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has never stated that his team has a void at center of the second line, but, in this case, actions might give a clearer picture. Despite a stockpile of young talent at center ice within the system, most of the prospects aren't quite ready for a full NHL season yet -- let alone a "top-six" role centering a second line next to Hossa.

Star forward Patrick Sharp, who's just starting to skate on his own while recovering from an emergency appendectomy on Sept. 12, has spent the past couple of seasons alternating between that role and playing wing on the top line. He played a lot of center on the second line during Chicago's playoff run to the 2010 Stanley Cup and again played there for stretches last season.

However, Quenneville thinks his deepest lineup might be Kane sliding in at second-line center and Sharp going back to the wing next to top-line center Jonathon Toews. He also doesn't want to disrupt the chemistry of his main checking line, the third line, which features defensive stopper Dave Bolland at center.

"If you line up Toews, Kane and Bolland 1-2-3 right down the middle that could be a pretty good 1-2-3 lineup," Quenneville said after Monday's practice. "You like guys who want the puck, have good patience with it, anticipate what their wingers are up to and see plays before they actually happen -- and that's one of (Kane's) strengths.  A lot of times Kaner is coming up the middle of the ice with the puck and he has it in the middle of the ice area, where you can be more dangerous and more of a threat. It's not like a forward going back to the point, so I think he should be fine."

Physically, anyway.

Mentally, it remains to be seen whether Kane has entirely bought into the idea. He didn't sound convinced Monday, but also said he'd give it his best shot in the preseason -- if, indeed, that's what the Hawks really want to do.

"I guess it's something they wanted to try, so hopefully we'll try it for a couple games and see how it goes," he said. "I've been skating there for a little bit, playing with (Hossa) a little the last couple days. With it being something they wanted to try, it's preseason so … why not?"

If it doesn't work, then Quenneville could do what former Hawks coach Denis Savard did in the 2008 preseason -- when he pulled the plug on the Kane-to-center experiment after one period of an exhibition game against the Minnesota Wild.

The Hawks considered shifting Patrick Kane to center several years back, and without a solid second-line pivot, it appears they're about to take a look at him again there. (Photo: Getty Images)
The Hawks allowed three goals in that period and Kane's defensive limitations were said to be the main reason his time patrolling the center of the ice was so brief. Has his defense improved enough in the years since to make the switch work this time?

"I don't know," Kane said. "Yeah, you hope so. Anything you can put your mind to, especially defensively, you'll be able to do it. I think my defense has definitely developed over the past three years and I feel pretty comfortable in my own end. Obviously, center's a whole different position -- but it's something you've got to work on, I guess."

Quenneville and Kane's teammates sounded more sure of his defensive ability, stating that his quick stick work and positioning will be key to defending the puck in the Chicago zone, especially against big-bodied opposing centers.

"His anticipation and hockey sense in the puck area is good," Quenneville said. "That's the way we want to play, with a quick stick and positionally being strong. He's got a real good feel for it. He seems to have a good stick. He doesn't have to move bodies around; just be sure you're looking to kill plays and looking to get (the puck). That's what he can do. I think he should be able to adapt to that situation."

The first trial run could happen Wednesday night, when the Hawks host the rival Detroit Red Wings in a preseason game at the United Center. Kane hasn't played in any of Chicago's first four preseason games while working through the final stages of recovery from surgery to repair a fractured scaphoid bone in his left wrist.

He said Monday that he hasn't been ruled out for Wednesday's game, but also said he hasn't been told he's playing. The wrist is still making progress, though. Kane was able to skate without a splint Monday and said it felt OK, which is good news. He also saw the doctor and again got good news.

He's right on track from a health standpoint and is now getting himself ready for the start of the regular season, Oct. 7 in Dallas. Of course, that preparation now includes re-learning the intricacies of playing in the middle of the ice -- such as taking draws, being more disciplined and seeing both sides of the ice.

"He knows how to do it, how to play center," Bolland said. "If it works for a bit, let's go with it. If not, let's switch it back around."

Kane is taking a similar outlook.

"I'm going to try my best at it," he said. "If it works, it works. If not, I guess they'll probably try something else. We'll see what happens."

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