Patrick Kane notched his 1,000th career point on Sunday, courtesy a secondary assist on a Brandon Saad tally. The Chicago Blackhawks superstar has presided over the best era in the franchise’s history and was a major part of the rebuild that got the Hawks to that point in the first place. And while Chicago is in the midst of another rebuild, Kane has been remarkably spry lately, netting a career-high 110 points last season and putting up 62 in his first 50 games this year.
Undoubtedly, Kane has made a lasting impact on the NHL. And thanks to hitting the rarified 1,000-point mark in his career, we are afforded the opportunity to look at his legacy on the ice. Because Kane’s Hall of Fame story will have two different storylines when all is said and done.
The first narrative revolves around his place at the vanguard of America’s rise in hockey. Yes, there were those who came before him – the Joey Mullens, Pat Lafontaines and Brett Hulls (though Hull was Canadian by birth), the Miracle on Ice crew – but Americans never dominated en masse in those eras. Kane was at the forefront of a generation that pushed Canada to overtime at the 2010 Olympic gold-medal game and gave us names such as Jonathan Quick, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and countless others. When Kane went first overall to the Hawks in 2007, he was just the sixth American to earn that honor in more than 40 years. In the past four years, it has happened twice, with Auston Matthews and Jack Hughes – and it will likely happen again soon.
Now, I am not going to claim that the mere presence of Kane opened the NHL’s eyes to the talents of Americans, but he has been the most successful of his peers from that era. Three Stanley Cups, one Hart, one Art Ross, one Calder, one Conn Smythe and several first-team all-star designations is a pretty good haul. And his path through USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program paved the way for other future stars such as Matthews, Seth Jones and Jack Eichel.
The second part of Kane’s story that will always remain is how his success with a smaller frame opened the doors for skill players who lacked size. With every passing year, it becomes less novel when a Johnny Gaudreau or Mitch Marner becomes a high-end offensive force in the NHL, but let’s not forget how important size was just a decade or two ago.
Kane was proof that you can’t hit what you can’t catch and that was a big mental hill for a lot of NHL teams to climb. Heck, there is still some residual bias in that regard when it comes to the draft, where anyone listed under 5-foot-10 is probably going to slip out of the top-10 (just look at Cole Caufield).
For those teams that have taken the ‘chance’ on smaller players, we’ve seen the benefits. Kane’s own Chicago team got Alex DeBrincat in the second round of the 2016 draft, despite the fact the 5-foot-7 winger had scored 51 goals in back-to-back seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters. Sure enough, DeBrincat exploded for 41 goals as a sophomore with the Blackhawks and though his numbers are down a bit this season, he’s still looking like a steal.
No doubt Kane will be a Hall of Famer once his career is finished and depending on how long he plays, he could end up as the top American scorer of all-time (he’ll need nearly 400 points to do it), though I doubt he would remain on top for long. Matthews and Eichel seem like the most likely candidates to surpass him, but that takes nothing away from what Kane has accomplished. He opened the door for a lot of different players to follow through and that’s pretty good in itself.
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