Right now, Evander Kane is a Buffalo Sabre.
That was the declaration from coach Phil Housley Tuesday morning. No need to worry about distractions with trade talk and the rumors that are starting to heat up as the NHL trade deadline of Feb. 26 creeps closer.
Kane is putting on the blue and gold, working to help right the errant Sabres ship, feeling comfortable and confident in the Buffalo dressing room.
But as that trade deadline creeps closer, Kane is also another thing – the biggest potential rental player in the National Hockey League.
Kane has offensive skills that most NHL teams, particularly those making a playoff push, crave for the final months of the regular season. He's fast. He's physical. He can score.
Oh, and he's healthy.
That means the Sabres could very well trade away their leading scorer, if the price was right. It's the business side of the game, and Kane knows all about that. It was three years ago when he was a trade deadline deal between the Winnipeg Jets and the Sabres, coming to Buffalo with Zach Bogosian.
He had a rocky relationship with the Jets organization, media and fans. There were boos when he touched the puck in Winnipeg on Friday during a 4-3 loss to his former team.
But regardless of trade rumors, or his pending unrestricted free agency on July 1, or his large personality which rubs some people the wrong way, Kane has one goal in mind – to be as effective and productive as he can for the Buffalo Sabres.
So far, he's been one of the most productive forwards for the Sabres with 16 goals and 19 assists heading into Tuesday's game against the Jets in KeyBank Center. He's still on pace for 31 goals, which would be a career high, despite cooling off to scoring just one goal in his last seven games.
"I think in my last few games I've had some Grade A scoring opportunities. I just haven't finished, Kane said. "That unfortunately happens throughout the course of a season but you try and rectify that as soon as possible."
"You go back on that road trip and at the Winter Classic and he had some glorious opportunities," Housley said. "So it's not so much he's not getting the opportunities. You know early on I think he was finishing better. Sometimes that happens but he's got to back to work again. You know, getting hard on the forecheck, creating offensively by using his speed, and then when he gets opportunities, he's not afraid to shoot the puck or attack the net. He's just got to continue to do that."
All those things that Housley pointed out are the same things noted by Ryan O'Reilly. The forward has played with Kane off and on lately, through the shifting tides of the line combinations. And Kane, he said, can be a pretty easy guy to play with.
"I think he's got elite speed," O'Reilly said of Kane. "He's got a great shot as well, but his speed alone creates so much. On the forecheck he's one of the first guys in. I think he makes the (opposing) D feel unsettled. He's a strong guy. He's going to get the puck back. As a forward, it's easy to play with him. If you get to the scoring areas, he's going to shoot and most likely going to score. It's nice to have that threat."
And perhaps the most important thing for Kane, the biggest reason for his offensive numbers this season, has been his ability to stay healthy.
Kane has played in every game for the Sabres this season. Last year he cracked three ribs in the season opener when he crashed into the boards fighting for the puck. He was out for six months when he was traded to the Sabres after undergoing shoulder surgery.
But this year, he's avoided the injured reserve list. And being in the daily lineup has allowed him to develop consistency in his game.
"If you look at my injuries, they've all been like freak accidents," Kane said. "Maybe just a little more luck on my side this year.
"I think it's just being able to stay healthy. It really comes back to that but as I've said before, I think I can do more. I can produce at a higher level. We have the second half of the season that started one game ago and it's about just trying to elevate my game to the next level."
Story topics: Evander Kane