A blue-collar kid from a blue-collar city, Kane has long been questioned about his size and commitment to playing defence. He’s always answered by working hard and becoming a better hockey player. Even in the days leading up to the NHL entry draft in Columbus, where many feel Kane could be selected first overall, the 18-year-old from Buffalo was still shaking his head at those who doubt him.
He was flipping through the Red Line Report during a recent interview at a Toronto hotel and noted the comment where he was called a “one-way player.”
“It’s funny to read this stuff,” said Kane, who is still ranked No. 1 by the scouting publication despite concern over his defensive play.
So it goes for a five-foot-nine forward who has been one of the top players for pretty much every team he’s ever played for. Kane led the entire Canadian Hockey League in scoring with 145 points (62-83) as a rookie this year with the OHL’s London Knights.
That standout season vaulted him up every rankings list out there. He had started the year with a more modest goal.
“I was doing my best to try and get in that first round,” said Kane. “Then as you keeping moving up the ladder, you’re thinking, ‘I can play with these guys.’ You see the competition out there.
“(Being picked first overall) is something I’ve been shooting for and after the world juniors I definitely saw it as a reality and a possibility.”
Many observers feel Kane will be taken first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. Unlike Kyle Turris and James vanRiemsdyk, the other two top-ranked prospects, Kane has no plans to go to college and would be available to play in the NHL next season.
As a kid, he used to play a game in the basement of his house where he imagined being the first player called to the stage at the NHL draft. If it were to happen for real, Kane says he welcomes the inevitable expectations that would accompany the selection.
“Over the past couple years, I’ve really viewed myself as a pressure player,” he said. “I do good under pressure situations. The way I play the game is I want to be the man on the ice and I want to really help the team any way I can, but mostly offensively. That’s the kind of player I am.
“If a team picks me I’m sure they’re going to be looking for offence. I’m going to go into that camp and try and prove my style, prove my game.”
Those words nearly echoed the advice of Tampa Bay Lightning centre Vincent Lecavalier, who was selected first overall in 1998 and took some time to develop into a star player.
Lecavalier said it was tough going to a losing organization, just as Kane or one of the others would do if Chicago holds onto the top pick this year.
He urged this year’s No. 1 pick not to get complacent.
“Just work hard,” Lecavalier said last week.
That shouldn’t be a problem from Kane. It’s a trait that has been branded into him since his minor hockey days and something he takes pride in.
“Coming from where I’m from, it’s kind of a blue-collar area,” said Kane. “Anyone that comes out of there is a hard working kid. It’s definitely fun to be part of that crowd.”
There will be about 70 or 80 people from the Buffalo area at Nationwide Arena to support Kane at the draft, which starts Friday with the first round and runs through Saturday. He’ll be sitting anxiously in the stands with his parents and 82-year-old grandpa.
Kane credits his family for helping him get to this point and is especially excited to have his grandpa there on the big day.
“He’s had a couple tough years with sickness and stuff and he’s still followed me,” said Kane. “I feel like when I talk to him on the phone or when he hears about me it kind of sparks him up.
“For him to be there for me, it will be an honour.”
The rest of Kane’s summer will be spent at home in Buffalo.
He’ll be working out five days a week and hanging out with the same friends he’s had since first moving away from home at age 14 to play hockey in Detroit’s Honeybaked hockey program.
Just because he’ll be an NHL draft pick by then, doesn’t mean he’ll be getting any special treatment from his buddies.
“All my friends from grammar school are still my friends today,” said Kane. “I really like that I can go home and get ripped on and joked about. It’s fun to me because that’s my life and that’s the kind of kid I am.
“It’s not always people trying to impress me and pump up my tires. It’s pretty nice going back home to reality.”
One of the tougher tasks that will come before his first NHL training camp in the fall will be getting used to not cheering for the hometown Sabres – unless, of course, they trade up to select Kane.
“I’m a huge Sabres fan,” he said. “I’ve loved them. I’ve followed them. I’ve lived and died with them through my whole life.
“I’m going to be a Sabres fan up until the day I’m drafted and if I don’t go to them, I’ll have to switch teams.”