Wearing a sling, a Sabres sweatshirt and a confident smile, Evander Kane didn’t look like a bad teammate, immature kid or a quitter, some of the descriptions that have accompanied him lately. He looked like a happy young man eager to embrace his fresh start.
“I’m looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things here in Buffalo,” Kane said Saturday during his introductory news conference in First Niagara Center. “The organization has been fantastic in how they’ve treated me so far and the way they’ve brought me in. I’m really happy, my parents are happy, and that’s a good thing as well.”
Kane is spending his first weekend in Western New York since being acquired by the Sabres in a blockbuster deal Feb. 11. He, his parents and a friend are watching games (including Sunday’s visit by Nashville), taking in the snow-covered sights and meeting members of an organization that wanted him as much as he wanted a new team.
The Sabres are going to make Kane a marquee attraction when he’s ready to play next season, and the 23-year-old is eager to embrace the leading role.
“I’ve been ready to do that for a while now,” the sixth-year veteran said. “That’s one of the exciting things I think that the opportunity here in Buffalo brings is to be able to do that. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”
While Kane is eager to move on from a tumultuous stay in Winnipeg, there needs to be one last look at how the talented, physical, goal-scoring left winger landed in Buffalo.
After an incident with teammates (reportedly centering around a track suit being worn at the wrong time and ending up in a cold tub), Kane failed to show up for a game and followed that by electing to have season-ending surgery. Shortly after the scalpels were put away, Winnipeg sent Kane to Buffalo as part of an eight-piece deal that had Tyler Myers moving to the Jets.
So ... what happened during those last few days in Winnipeg?
“I’m not really going to get into the details of what happened,” Kane said. “Was I wearing a track suit? No, but like I said, it’s something that tends to get blown out of proportion, especially playing in a Canadian market. There’s been numerous things that have happened in the past that are completely false, and we’ll leave it at that.
“The week that it happened, it was probably fun for the media and not fun for others. It’s part of the business, and it’s something that doesn’t really bother me that much.”
Kane insisted multiple times that the negative remarks about his character are overblown and something he doesn’t take personally.
“I know the type of player and type of guy I am,” Kane said. “The people that are around me and manage me, they know that as well. That’s what matters the most.
“It really doesn’t bother me as much as people might think it does. It gives me a good laugh sometimes.”
His time in Winnipeg featured too few chuckles. Drafted fourth overall in 2009 when the franchise was in Atlanta, he attracted attention on and off the ice during four seasons in Manitoba.
“I had asked for a trade in the past, so I guess maybe it was overdue,” Kane said. “Winnipeg is a very small town, but it’s a big hockey market. It’s a little tougher than a Vancouver or Toronto where you can maybe get away a little bit. It’s a fishbowl.
“Being a Winnipeg Jet is something that everybody knew who you were, and they always wanted to talk to you, which is great. That was one of the things that you definitely enjoy, but negative things can take a toll a little bit.”
The final act in Winnipeg was his decision to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. The Jets are trying to make the playoffs, but this month’s surgery put Kane out for four to six months.
“I was playing hurt with a majority of injuries through the course of the season,” he said. “It just took a toll, and it was time for me to get my surgery done.
“The surgery was a little bit more complicated in terms of what they originally thought it was. There’s a hole actually in my shoulder as well, but everything’s fixed and good to go now.”
He’s confident he’ll be fully recovered by training camp in September. He’ll do most of his rehab in his hometown of Vancouver.
“I have lots of time to get healthy, and that’s something I thought about coming to that conclusion to get the surgery done,” he said. “It’s not going to change my game. I’m not going to second-guess going into a corner and taking a hit.
“I’m already looking forward to next year, but the team’s still playing. It’s kind of tough to balance that a little bit, but it gives me an opportunity to get healthy and finally get my body back to where it needs to be so I can perform my best.”
Kane’s best was a 30-goal, 57-point season in 2011-12. He’ll need first-line teammates to make that happen again. After talking with his agent, he thinks the Sabres can quickly build their roster.
“Obviously, the organization is in a position to most likely be picking really high, if not No. 1, so that’s definitely an exciting possibility,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to be sitting around waiting years and years and years to rebuild this thing. I think they’re trying to do it as soon as possible.
“Before I got to the NHL, I won at all levels and won a lot,” said the junior hockey and world junior champion. “It’s definitely been tough not winning at this level, so that’s something I want to change.”
Kane got the biggest change possible, a trade out of a place he didn’t want to be. His chance to start anew is here.
“Sometimes things just don’t work out,” Kane said. “Now I have an opportunity to be a Buffalo Sabre and have a fresh start. That’s something I’m really excited about.”