Evander Kane has yet to play a game with Buffalo, but he wandered through First Niagara Center on Thursday as if he’d been in town for years. He smiled, cracked jokes and snapped pictures. He talked of happier days, improved health and better stats.
It’s clear Kane is comfortable. Now he has to show that he can be a key contributor for the Sabres.
The left winger was one of 60 players who visited the arena for physicals, head shots and testing. They will take the ice for the first time Friday morning as Buffalo opens training camp and starts a new era after back-to-back seasons at the bottom of the NHL.
The play of Kane will help the Sabres get out of the basement. The 24-year-old is the team’s new No. 1 left winger. Fully healed from major shoulder surgery, he’s ready to prove it.
“I’ve scored 30 goals before in 74 games as a 20-year-old,” Kane said. “Obviously, I can score 30 goals. ‘Will I?’ is more the question.
“I hope to score as many goals as possible. Thirty is just kind of a set number. I’ve already scored 30. Maybe I want to score 40 or 50. We’ll see.”
Considering the Sabres scored just 153 goals as a team last year, talk of having a 50-goal scorer makes it obvious there’s a new mind-set in town. There’s a good reason for it.
Sabres General Manager Tim Murray has dramatically increased the talent level in Buffalo, starting with the trade for Kane in February. Since then, Murray has added Ryan O’Reilly, Jack Eichel, Robin Lehner, Cody Franson and others to the lineup while hiring Dan Bylsma as coach.
Kane, like the rest of the folks in Sabreland, watched the transactions with interest and excitement.
“Obviously, Tim made some big moves to kind of push our team to the next level - on paper,” Kane said. “Now we’ve got to go out and prove it, and that’s the thing.
“For us, we’re excited about the guys we do have. We’re excited about the moves we made, and everybody’s optimistic heading into the season.”
The introduction of Kane to the lineup will be one of the major story lines of training camp. The speedy, flashy, potential-filled winger gets a fresh start after a tumultuous stay in Winnipeg.
“He’s a great player,” O’Reilly said. “You give him a chance and he’s got his speed going, he’s going to burn you. That’s something that’s nice to have on the team, especially on the wing. If you can get a guy like that the puck, he’s going to make a lot happen.”
Kane hasn’t played since February because of a torn labrum, so it could take time to get into game shape.
“Probably a month and a half ago I was fully recovered, fully healed and started training,” Kane said. “I feel like I’m just learning to play hockey all over again. It’s been a good last month for me getting back on the ice, getting the legs going, getting the speed going, getting the hands back a little bit.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some rust throughout camp and through the preseason especially, having not played in eight or nine months, but by the time the regular season starts I’m sure I’ll be ready to go.”
The time away from the game had a benefit. It rejuvenated Kane.
“It gave me a little taste of what retirement would be like,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s in like 13, 15 more years.”
Though just 24, Kane is an NHL veteran. He’s entering his seventh season and wants to help with the molding of Buffalo’s prospects. He’s in a group of young, established pros that includes Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian, Marcus Foligno and O’Reilly.
“We’re going to be expected to lead the way a little bit, and that’s something to embrace and enjoy,” Kane said. “I do have that experience to be able to lead and help out. But at the same time, the best way to lead is usually on the ice. That’s what I’ll try to do.”