If the Buffalo Sabres draft first overall this year, they’re not going to get the next Sidney Crosby. The draft class doesn’t project like that. But they should still get a future superstar candidate.
Like … oh, Patrick Kane?
The South Buffalo whiz kid was No. 1 in 2007 and has produced a pretty incredible career in a relatively short time. Think two Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and Calder Trophy, and two runs to the Olympics. He entered Sunday’s game here with 489 career points and he’s still just 25 years old.
You saw all you needed to see very early in the first period. Kane took the puck through the neutral zone and got Christian Ehrhoff completely turned around. He stickhandled through Chad Ruhwedel and used the poor kid just two days removed from Rochester as a screen. And then he whizzed a wrister top-shelf over Jhonas Enroth for Chicago’s first goal.
In the words of one veteran Blackhawks observer in the press box, “Patrick Kane just did one of those things Patrick Kane does.”
Lately, of course, Kane had not been doing that. He had not scored a goal since Feb. 3 in Los Angeles, a span of five straight goal-less NHL games and, of course, the Olympics in Sochi where he had plenty of chances and pretty much zero puck luck.
Coming home to play a game for the first time since 2010 proved to be a certain elixir to Kane’s game because he was flying all night. The roar after his goal was telling.
“It’s something we’ve gotten used to on the road,” Kane said. “We have a great fanbase that travels with our team. Sometimes a lot of the games on the road feel like home games because we have so many fans following the team.”
The celebration was vintage Kane, up on one leg and arms spread wide to take the platitudes from the fans and his teammates for his third career goal in four games here.
“I saw the puck and tried to just make room around the defenseman,” Kane said. “It got a little bit ahead of me and I caught up with it, made a shot through the screen and I don’t think the goalie saw it. I didn’t even see it go in, I just saw and heard the crowd cheering and heard some of my teammates. It was a good feeling.”
Kane said before the game that one of the first things he does when the schedule comes out each summer is to check dates and sites for games against the Sabres. And bless the NHL’s heart that we’re going to see Kane, Jonathan Toews & Co. every year now under the new schedule matrix that brings the Hawks’ traveling road show to town.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville chuckled he never saw so many fans at a morning skate as he did here Sunday. And those beautiful red, white and black sweaters crowded the tunnel for pregame warm-ups in Leafs-level numbers.
Quenneville was asked about the kind of game he needed to see from Kane and offered some pretty prescient words.
“When he has the puck more, he’s more dangerous,” Quenneville said. “Hopefully he has the puck a lot and does his thing.”
Kane had the puck in this one. A ton. He said he knew he needed to pick up his game and this was a step forward.
As he put it, “It’s not like you can go into the playoffs and flick a switch. It doesn’t happen like that.”
Good point. The Blackhawks have been surprisingly average for a while now, with Sunday’s win making them just 18-9-10 over their last 37 games after a 20-4-4 start.
And with Ryan Miller in St. Louis, the Hawks figure to have a tough time even winning the Central Division, let along repeating as Stanley Cup champs.
As for the Sabres, they can’t just flip a switch and become relevant again either. They have to draft and develop well and spend their money wisely. Their most cockeyed optimists in the fan base have targeted Kane for free agency next summer, when his five-year, $31.5 million deal expires.
Please. The Blackhawks will find a way to keep Kane and Toews. They’re on the way to getting statues someday outside the United Center, just like Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull. They’ve already won two Cups. Who knows how many more they can win together?
Kane played it a coy when the subject of Buffalo was broached, reminiscing about begging for sticks and pucks at the Aud when he was 6 or 7 but insisting he’s given nary a thought or heard nary a word about any homecoming.
And Kane pays close attention to what’s up here.
“It seems like it’s been a tough year for them but at the same time it seems like they’re a young team and they’ve got a lot of things in place for the future,” Kane Said. “Everybody has been following them because they’ve probably been one of the most talked-about teams in the league lately with all the trades and with what’s been going on.”
So my message to Sabres fans is this: Dream on about getting Kane. But dream big about getting someone who could be just like him someday.