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Mike Harrington: Ex-Sabre Evander Kane hopes San Jose delivers wins Buffalo couldn't

SAN JOSE — Evander Kane said here Wednesday that he's looking forward to playing against the Buffalo Sabres Thursday night in SAP Center.

At least, what's left of the Sabres that he knows.

In the nearly eight months since Kane was told to find the way to San Jose at the NHL trade deadline, his old team has undergone an extreme makeover. And it's been widely noticed how GM Jason Botterill's moves excised all three of predecessor Tim Murray's top acquisitions in Kane, Ryan O'Reilly and Robin Lehner.

"I don't know if he was trying to remove Tim's legacy, the players he brought in. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't," Kane told The News after the San Jose Sharks' practice at Solar4America Ice. "It's really just kind of making your decision on who you want to go with. He made his decisions. Only time will tell. But I'm happy where I am now and enjoying my career."

Kane's new team has Stanley Cup aspirations since the September trade acquisition of Erik Karlsson from Ottawa but is only 2-3-1 through six games. Kane has a team-high four goals and is tied for the team lead with five points.

But while Kane is looking ahead at a long push toward the Cup, he understood this game means there will be lots of rehashing of his three years in Buffalo. And while there were a couple well-documented missteps off the ice, there was also plenty of charitable work, hospital visits and Secret Santa-type interactions with children.

"The fans and community treated me fantastic, no matter what was going on," he said. "It made it easy for me to enjoy my time."

Kane provided the Sabres with lots of offense as well.

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"I just wish we would have had a lot more team success, that I would have been part of more winning and longer seasons there," he said. "But I enjoyed my time there and was able to find some personal success. It was tough to be part of losing seasons but at the end of the day, I loved the city. The fans were great to me and the organization treated me very well."

Kane was acquired in 2015, two months before the Sabres finished last and earned the right to draft Jack Eichel, but couldn't play for that portion of the 2014-15 season due to shoulder surgery. He played the next 2 1/2 years, compiling 68 goals in 196 games.

The way the Buffalo offense has struggled for several years, three straight 20-goal seasons is a good accomplishment. And the Sabres currently have no one to succeed at 5-on-5 play the way Kane did for them.

"He attacks the game the right way," said Sabres coach Phil Housley. "He plays the game the right way. That's obviously why San Jose wanted to acquire him. He's going to be amped up for the game and we're well aware of that."

"Management, coaches, players could never really get on the same page there. It's tough," Kane said. "You're bringing in 10 different players, getting rid of 10 players. Then you've got a new coaching staff. They like certain players. Then you get a new GM. It's hard when there's no consistency in any facet, on the ice or off. They seem to be on the right path now. Time will tell."

The Sabres weren't going to pay Kane long term and his play, especially at even strength, made him marketable. The Sharks gave him seven years and $49 million, far more than the Sabres ever would have.

"He's been awesome. If not our best forward, in that conversation from day one," said San Jose coach Peter DeBoer. "Plays all situations. PP, PK. He's a 200-foot player who works both ends of the ice and it doesn't affect his scoring.

"The one thing I didn't know was how he keeps people honest on the ice for other guys on our team. If they're thinking about taking a liberty, he's the first guy skating over there or talking to them from the bench. He's been fantastic."

Eichel was one of Kane's closest friends on the Sabres and Kane said he was happy to hear the Sabres made Eichel their captain at the end of training camp.

"I know that's something he wanted," Kane said. "You could tell he wanted it. I'm sure he was really happy to get that."

Kane and Eichel got reacquainted last month at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago, where national outlets get a rapid-fire chance to interview the league's top stars. In one setup, former NHL player Paul Bissonnette was doing a gag for the league's social media accounts where he asked what was in a box as the player entered his room.

As the story goes, Bissonnette greeted each player at the door with a large yellow Anaconda around his neck. Eichel was famously outed at the 2015 draft by NHL.com for being deathly afraid of snakes and Kane knew what would happen when his friend saw the giant boa.

"I was waiting for the other guy in the room (Columbus' Seth Jones) and he didn't tell me what was in there," Kane said. "So I go in there and I had never been around a snake that big. I was freaking out. I didn't want to touch it, didn't want it on me.

"I came out and Jack walked in and he literally ran out squealing. He freaked out and left and they had to put the snake back in the box. I was giving it to him for that."

Told after practice Wednesday in SAP Center that Kane had let the snake story out of the box, Eichel rolled his eyes and had a good laugh.

"You know I'm not really a big fan of snakes, or reptiles for that matter," he said. "They kind of surprised me with one there. I didn't really like it. So I chose not to participate in their video."

But turning serious, Eichel said Kane was an asset to his early years in the NHL.

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"I always had good experiences with Evander. He was always nice to me, always took care of me, brought me to dinner with him, invited me to things," Eichel said. "I can't say anything bad about Evander. I go off my relationship and experiences with him and it's been a great one.

"He's his own person. Maybe at times he can be misunderstood but I wish him all the best. I liked Evander and I'm happy to see him having success and doing well out here."

Kane got to play in a pair of playoff series last year for the Sharks, the first of his career. San Jose's Cup path ended in a second-round loss to Vegas, preventing a Western Conference final showdown between Kane's new team and his first team, the Winnipeg Jets.

"It was a great, an experience I thought about for a long time," he said. "To have the opportunity to be part of the playoffs was exciting. I came here and we still weren't solidified in the West. Being part of the race was fun too. It was third-last game to get that spot."

The Sharks have struggled to score this year. Their power play is just 2 for 21 and only in an 8-2 win at Philadelphia has the offense truly fired properly. But most observers except San Jose to get things together. The Sharks are second in the league in shot attempts with more than 38 per night.

"It's been so long I've been on a team like this with those expectations and it's a lot of fun," he said. "We were all about winning. We felt we had the group to do it and this year we think we're even better."

Kane has also had no problems fitting into a dressing room with a lot of outsized personalities (think Joe Thornton and Brent Burns) and several standout veterans.

"You need different personalities, guys accepted for roles," he said. "That's why the culture here has been so good for so long. They've had success in terms of being competitive for a long time."

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