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Super 16: Bet on Kane could pay off big for Sabres

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

Too often the focus on a young player in the NHL is about what he doesn't do well or facets of his game or personality that may be a product of being a young player.

When Alex Ovechkin entered the League, he reached levels of performance no hockey player has since before a combination of goaltending equipment and instruction and evolution of defensive systems and video technology made suppressing offense easier for even bad teams.

Yet there was always a but. Sure, he's the most gifted goal scorer of his generation, but questions about his defensive play and ultimately the failures of the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs were pinned on him.

Patrick Kane, Carey Price, P.K. Subban; going back further it was players like Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux who had their overall game questioned before they matured into fully-formed superstar talents. And maturity for many of these players mentioned was a big part of the criticism.

This leads to a discussion about Evander Kane, who was the focus of one of the most fascinating trades in the NHL in years Wednesday. If the first-round pick is counted, six assets who have yet to turn 25 years old and a seventh who has been 25 for 12 days changed franchises. The team in "buying" mode added three of the four prospects (again, counting the pick as a prospect), and the team in "selling" mode may very well have added the two best players.

Kane is 23 years old, and depending on someone's particularly heated opinion, either a misunderstood superstar in waiting or a potentially poisonous influence in the dressing room with forever untapped on-ice potential. He might also just be a really good player who was forced to grow up in the NHL, so his bouts of immaturity were exposed on a grand stage.

Buffalo general manager Tim Murray was willing to bet on Kane's issues either being a product of his age or his environment or overstated, or any combination of the three, really. If he's right, the Sabres may have just landed one of the game's top young power forwards as he enters the prime of his career.

"It wasn't all unicorns and rainbows and Jujubes," Murray said of Kane's time in Winnipeg. "Players have warts. The best players have warts. I can tell you the best of the very best players have warts. But I can't talk about them. It's just what it is in the past."

Kane has proven he is one of the best shot generators in the League. This was his worst season for the Winnipeg Jets in that department, and he still averaged 3.41 shots on goal per game.

Super16 Shooting Star?

Player 3.2 S/G seasons^ Age 18-23 goals Age 24-29 goals
Dale Hawerchuk 6 268 181
Wayne Gretzky 5 356 321
EVANDER KANE* 5 109 ???
Bobby Orr 5 152 118
Steven Stamkos* 5 233 28
Pavel Bure 4 174 210
Sidney Crosby* 4 185 76
Marcel Dionne 4 139 299
Mario Lemieux 4 300 194
Rick Martin 4 185 198
Alex Ovechkin* 4 219 236
Geoff Sanderson 4 153 113
*Active
^Prior to age-24 season

This is the fifth season Kane has averaged more than 3.2 shots per game of his six in the NHL. Check out the accompanying table for some historical perspective on players who generated shots at that level of consistency by their age-23 season.

There are four other players (dating back as far in NHL history as shots on goal have officially been tallied, which is the start of the 1967-68 season) who have five seasons with at least 3.2 shots on goal per game by Kane's age, and 12 who have at least four seasons.

That is pretty accomplished company to be part of. That's six Hockey Hall of Fame members, the three best offensive players to enter the NHL in the past decade (Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos) and two other guys (Rick Martin and Geoff Sanderson) who each had at least three 30-goal seasons after turning 24 years old.

Kane has one 30-goal season to this point, and only one 20-goal campaign as well (though he was likely to approach 30 goals if 2012-13 had been a full season and 25 goals if he had not missed 19 games last season).

If Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff felt the situation with Kane was beyond repair, he did manage a pretty solid return. The difference between Tyler Myers and Zach Bogosian could ultimately tip in Buffalo's favor, or be rather negligible. Drew Stafford can help without any commitment beyond this season.

Adding two strong prospects (Joel Armia, especially) and a first-round pick in a strong draft could give Cheveldayoff more ammunition later this month or near the draft in June to further improve a young club that is trending upward.

Next season Kane will have a repaired shoulder and plenty of motivation to prove those who doubt him wrong. He will also be a year older, and some combination of those factors could help him flourish in Buffalo.

If he does, Kane will be the latest NHL player who probably just needed time to mature. Not every immature young talent works out, but players with Kane's ability are more often than not worth the wait.

For this version of the Super 16, let's look at the potential needs for Kane's old team and the 15 others who could all be interested in making a trade of some kind in the coming weeks.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (33-18-4)

HELP WANTED: If Trevor van Riemsdyk is ready for Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series, then what the Blackhawks need is reasonably good health and they will be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup, whether they finish first in the Central Division or third. Problem is, the Blackhawks might not know for sure on van Riemsdyk until well past the NHL Trade Deadline on March 2 (3 p.m. ET). Unless general manager Stan Bowman wants to get creative and try to alleviate some future salary cap concerns, it could be a pretty quiet few weeks for the Blackhawks.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (34-16-6)

HELP WANTED: Let's assume Matt Carle will be back and ready for the playoffs, and Radko Gudas is a luxury addition at some time during the postseason if the Lightning can play deep into the tournament. Tampa Bay doesn't need anything, but one more defenseman would be nice to keep the Lightning from pressing guys like Nikita Nesterov and Luke Witkowski and even Andrej Sustr into key roles. Nesterov (59.2 Corsi-for percentage despite more defensive zone starts than offensive ones) has been impressive in a small sample.

The Lightning have so many good young players and the proverbial window to contend for a title seems like it could be open for years, but why not strike (no pun intended, promise) now if the right deal presents itself? This year feels more wide open than the past two.

3. Nashville Predators (36-12-6)

HELP WANTED: The Predators have relied heavily on the top-six forwards and the defensemen for offense. The fourth line is getting the Chicago treatment (absorb as many defensive zone starts as possible), but adding some level of offensive punch to the third line seems like a good idea. Someone who could maybe alternate duties with Calle Jarnkrok, especially if he's not ready for a seven-game series against a team deep at center, would be ideal.

4. St. Louis Blues (35-15-4)

HELP WANTED: Up front, just let Dmitrij Jaskin continue to get top-nine minutes, and maybe even sprinkle in Ty Rattie or Magnus Paajarvi as well. Adding Marcel Goc should continue to help drag the fourth line away from being a complete possession sinkhole. Could GM Doug Armstrong use Kevin Shattenkirk's absence as an excuse to grab a quality defenseman? Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester have not been up to their elite-pairing expectations, and players like Barrett Jackman and Chris Butler are just OK. Add one more top-four caliber defenseman and then shuffle everyone below the top three down a peg for a postseason run? Sounds like a good plan.

5. Detroit Red Wings (31-13-9)

HELP WANTED: The Red Wings are like the Lightning, with plenty of young talent and more on the horizon. Where Detroit differs is the chances to win a Stanley Cup with Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall still at an elite level are dwindling. The owner, Mike Illitch, has never been afraid to make trades for either of the Detroit teams he owns. Detroit has been linked to every right-handed defenseman rumored to be available for multiple years now, and that seems like a good bet to top GM Ken Holland's wish list. Jakub Kindl and Xavier Ouellet make this a deeper group than probably credited, but would the right righty tempt Holland to pounce?

6. Pittsburgh Penguins (31-15-8)

HELP WANTED: The Penguins could have a fourth line of Goc, Rob Klinkhammer and Mark Arcobello and that trio would probably chew up shot attempts together, but all three are no longer on the roster. Adding David Perron means the Penguins have five sure-fire top-six forwards, and one spot for either Blake Comeau or a deadline addition. In a perfect world, the Penguins add a second-line wing and one more depth forward as well, but the last top-six/first bottom-six spot next to Brandon Sutter should be the priority. Unless Sutter was part of the package, which wouldn't be a terrible idea.

7. Anaheim Ducks (34-14-7)

HELP WANTED: At one point Tuesday, the Florida Panthers had five goals on 12 shots against the Ducks. They may have also had 11 scoring chances as well. Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm is an enviable young trio to start a defense corps with. Most nights Francois Beauchemin and Ben Lovejoy help too. Most nights the guys who make up the rest of the group do not help, and adding anyone who is better with the puck and can mitigate the usage of Clayton Stoner and Eric Brewer could be the difference between a deep run and another quick exit.

8. New York Islanders (35-18-1)

HELP WANTED: This is another team that doesn't really "need" anything and could win two or three rounds without doing anything. Given the circumstances for the Islanders and the lack of a dominant team or two, one more reliable defenseman, or even better a top-six wing, could push them to the top of the East. Think Marian Hossa going to the Penguins in 2008.

Another move to consider could be in net. Chad Johnson has struggled. If he doesn't approach his career save percentage (now .912 in a small sample) and continues at a sub-.880 clip, it could cost the Islanders a division title or home ice in the playoffs, something they'd really like to have in the last stand at the old barn.

9. Boston Bruins (28-19-7)

HELP WANTED: Peter Chiarelli is not shy about make a big move at this time of the season. Maybe that move is an offensively-gifted right wing (since he will likely be linked to at least two of his former teams, maybe another try with Jaromir Jagr, for instance?), but maybe Chiarelli gets even bolder and tries to reel in one of several high-level defensemen who could be available to anchor a second pairing behind Zdeno Chara and Dougie Hamilton.

10. Winnipeg Jets (28-18-10)

HELP WANTED: Getting Drew Stafford pushes Dustin Byfuglien back to defense, which is as big for the present in Winnipeg as adding Stafford and Tyler Myers combined. The Jets could probably still use one more top-nine forward, even if he slots in on the third line. And for Michael Hutchinson to start the first playoff game for the franchise since moving from Atlanta.

11. Washington Capitals (29-16-10)

HELP WANTED: The Capitals could move Mike Green if they are convinced he's not returning. He is a very expensive No. 5 defenseman, but he's also probably the best No. 5 in the NHL and a nice luxury if Washington has designs of a deep run. The Capitals have been looking for a No. 2 center for almost as long as Nicklas Backstrom has been the No. 1. A center is preferred, but a more permanent (for this season, anyway) partner for Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin would also help.

Don't forget about Washington this month. There is a new GM, an owner who wants to win and has been close several times, and some pretty valuable assets to entice trading partners.

12. Montreal Canadiens (35-15-3)

HELP WANTED: Some of the Canadiens' issues could be solved internally, but to expect the coaching staff to make those decisions (like moving Alex Galchenyuk to center, playing Michal Bournival and Jiri Sekac more and Alexei Emelin less) at this point in the season might not be feasible. Getting PA Parenteau back would help, but his return remains TBD. Maybe GM Marc Bergevin can find a veteran forward similar to Bournival or Sekac that the coaches would trust more?

13. Los Angeles Kings (23-18-12)

HELP WANTED: The Kings' biggest hole in the lineup is obvious. They've been without one of their top three defensemen for months because of Slava Voynov's suspension. Los Angeles' biggest reason for not climbing in the standings despite looking like the old Kings at times is goaltending, but hoping Jonathan Quick plays better might be more likely than giving Martin Jones more playing time. Los Angeles could use a top-four defenseman, and there could be several available. If the Kings have any cap space left, another forward (or Mike Richards rediscovering a previous level of play in the minors) would also help.

14. San Jose Sharks (28-20-8)

HELP WANTED: San Jose committed to playing youth more this season, but some of those kids have shown they aren't ready for advanced roles so the Sharks are basically left with the same frontline players but less depth. GM Doug Wilson said he wouldn't trade futures in the offseason, but could he add a depth forward or two and/or a third-pairing defenseman without yielding anything important? A bold move would be adding a goaltender, because neither of the current options has been more than average, and that position became a problem at the end of last season.

15. Minnesota Wild (26-20-7)

HELP WANTED: The Wild lean on their top-four defensemen like crazy, and none of the several options they've tried on the third pairing save for Christian Folin are particularly noteworthy. Still, injuries to Jason Zucker and Matt Cooke leave more obvious holes up front. Also, he's the future and he's been injured and a little unlucky at times, but Mikael Granlund has 18 points in 39 games and a CF% of less than 46 percent since Dec. 1 (granted, in only 16 games). So let's say the Wild could use at least one forward to help with this final playoff push, and if said forward could play center on the second or third line that would be most helpful.

16. New York Rangers (31-16-5)

HELP WANTED: Among forwards with at least 75 minutes of ice time since Dec. 1, Tanner Glass has the second-worst CF% relative to his team's average despite facing some of the easiest competition in the League. If it is not J.T. Miller or Jesper Fast or Chris Mueller, the Rangers could use one and maybe two forwards.

If one of them was a center who the coaching staff would trust to help ease some of Derek Stepan's tough assignments that would be a bonus. Check out the players at the end of a list of forwards with at least 450 minutes of even-strength ice time, and Stepan is the only one who is considered a consistent top-six forward for any team in the bottom 30 in CF% relative to his team's average. He's 13th-worst, nestled in with a peer group that includes Steve Ott, Daniel Paille and Derek Dorsett. And Stepan is getting his fair share of offensive-zone starts, so he's not one of the guys like Manny Malhotra or Boyd Gordon who are absorbing the tough starts to shield other players either.

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