Patrick Kane has been inundated with questions over the past several weeks. People from McKinley Parkway to London, Ontario, to Wrigley Field have asked Kane what it feels like to finally be in the National Hockey League.
The 18-year-old South Buffalonian found them difficult to answer.
The Chicago Blackhawks last month made Kane their first No. 1 draft choice in club history. He shook hands with the front office and slipped the hallowed jersey over his slight torso as the flashbulbs popped. A few days later he threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game and led the fans with "Take me out to the Ballgame" during the seventh-inning stretch.
As great as the Chicago spotlight felt, he didn't quite feel like he was in the NHL yet. That changed Wednesday, when both sides committed to each other. Kane signed the NHL's maximum entry-level contract for three years and a potential $3.725 million with bonuses.
The next time Kane puts on a Blackhawks jersey it will have his name and No. 88 on the back. He won't have a shirt and tie underneath. He'll be sweating in it, bleeding in it.
"I don't think it sunk in for a while that I was the top pick," Kane said. "But getting this contract signed helped. People have been asking me all along how exciting everything is, but with this done, it feels like I'm really a Blackhawk now."
All along, the Blackhawks have made it known they wanted whomever they chose with the top pick to play in the NHL immediately. The Blackhawks owned the fifth-worst record last season and scored the second-fewest goals.
"Patrick is a dynamic and exciting young player," Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon said in a statement. "We're pleased that he will begin a long and productive career with the Blackhawks when we open camp on Sept. 13. Patrick will get every opportunity to earn a spot on the opening night roster."
If all goes according to plan at training camp and through preseason exhibitions, Kane will make his NHL debut Oct. 4 in St. Paul against the Minnesota Wild.
"I believe I still don't know how big this is," Kane's mother, Donna, said. "I still say to my husband, 'What is the big deal?' And he says, 'Donna, it's No. 1 in the whole world.' I don't know if it will sink in until I see him play his first game in a Blackhawks jersey."
Because Patrick Kane still has junior eligibility, he cannot be sent to the American Hockey League. The Blackhawks must decide within 10 regular-season games whether to keep him or send him back to the London Knights, where he piled up 62 goals and 145 points last season to lead the 59-team Canadian Hockey League.
So Kane will have to impress the Blackhawks brass if he wants to play the Buffalo Sabres in HSBC Arena on Dec. 15.
Given the NHL's unbalanced interconference schedule -- teams host only one of the three divisions each year -- Kane would have to wait until the 2010-11 season to play in his hometown if he can't do it this time around.
"All my buddies are asking me for tickets already," Kane said. "Hopefully I can make it that far and play in that game."
The Kane family tried to negotiate the contract themselves. His mother and father possess a considerable business background. Donna Kane's maiden name is Doyle, as in the local auto empire. Patrick Kane Sr. helped run Kane-Doyle Jeep in Kenmore until it was sold in May.
And if any sports contract is easy to hammer out, it's the NHL's top pick because the league's collective-bargaining agreement puts a ceiling on entry-level deals.
"For a rookie the first three years it's not like you can negotiate any more," Donna Kane said. "He can get the max, and that's all you can do about it."
Nevertheless, the process became overwhelming to the point the Kanes hired agent Pat Brisson, whose other clients include former Sabres captain Daniel Briere and reigning MVP Sidney Crosby.
"We were actually working on a bit of a deal by ourselves, but then we decided enough's enough," Patrick Kane said. "We really didn't know what we were doing. The whole no-agent thing went far enough. It was fun for a bit, going in there alone and doing something different than what anyone else had done."
Now Kane can concentrate fully on the upcoming season. He has been working out in a Gold's Gym five days a week and skating twice a week at Leisure Rinks in West Seneca. He said he will join local NHLers when their annual informal Pepsi Center workouts begin next month.