CHICAGO – Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has a habit of attracting attention.
Maybe you recall the former No. 1 overall pick hitting the Internet last season, when photos show him partying in Madison, Wis. Or the 2009 arrest in his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., after an altercation with a cab driver.
All that seems so long ago for Kane, who on Thursday was named one of the finalists for the Lady Byng trophy given to the NHL player who exhibits the best sportsmanship and “gentlemanly conduct” along with top skills on the ice.
That shouldn’t be a surprise given Kane’s dazzling talent. He stepped right into the Blackhawks lineup and won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year. He scored 30 goals and 88 points in the 2009-10 regular season, then added 10 goals and 18 assists in the playoffs as the Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.
Then came this lockout-shortened season and the 24-year-old Kane has had the most effective season of his six-year career, according to coach Joel Quenneville, whose team holds a leads 1-0 in its Western Conference seminal series against Detroit. Game 2 will be played in Chicago on Saturday.
“I thought Kaner really progressed in his game this year,” Quenneville said. “Offensively he had the puck more than he ever did. I thought he had more speed, more pace to his game. He seemed to be more aware positionally and technically. He definitely improved his play in his own end. It thought his overall game was to a new level this year.
Kane led Chicago this season with 55 points, on 23 goals and 32 assists. More than his passing and playmaking—including a handful of jaw-dropping 360-degree pirouettes—have improved.
“I though each and every year Kaner has gotten better as a player in all aspect of his game,” Quenneville said. “He’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten better and he’s growing up as well.”
Kane, who has never taken a fighting major in the NHL, has been smarter, too. His penalty minute total has dropped from 52 as a rookie to just eight last season.
“I thought maybe I’d have a chance at this one (award) and I think it kind of speaks volumes for where my game has gone since my rookie season,” Kane said. “I remember I used to take a lot of penalties that were kind of unnecessary. I kind have got that out of my game a little bit. I’m definitely happy about it. It’s an honour.”
Kane has yet to score in six playoff games this season. But he has been visible on the ice, with six assists and a plus-4 rating.
“I just play my game and if the pass is there I’ll try to make the pass,” he said. “If it’s a shot, then I’ll shoot. That’s the thing with our team. If one or two guys aren’t scoring, then other guys are stepping up. That’s the way it’s been all year. Whoever it might be, that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
The Blackhawks anticipate a stiffer challenge from the Red Wings in Game 2. After Chicago defeated Detroit 4-1 on Wednesday night, coach Mike Babcock said his team was tired, coming off a seven-game upset of Anaheim in the opening round.
“I expect them to be better for sure,” Quenneville said. “Those Western trips back-and-forth add up.”
Babcock, who gave his team a day off Thursday, predicted the Red Wings will be re-energized on Saturday
“We have no reason not to be very good in the next game,” he said. “We got to get back at her and playing at a high tempo because obviously they were playing at a level (in Game 1) that we weren’t playing at.”
Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall added: “We know we’re better than this.”
Kane will be ready. As for the Lady Byng award, seven Blackhawks have won it but none since Stan Mikita in 1968.
“It’s an award that definitely a great honour,” he said. “I think it’s got a little different view now from players. Like it says in the (description), it’s skill and sportsmanship put together.”