On Tuesday night, Patrick Kane scored his 200th goal in the NHL. That’s far and away the best total from the 2007 draft class, so maybe it’s about time to consider Kane not just a playmaker but also an elite goal scorer.
The Chicago Blackhawks superstar has been steady for the franchise since entering the league, consistently potting more than 20 goals in each season of his career while generally being good for about 70 points. Even in his one down season in 2011-12, Kane netted 23 goals and 66 points, the .8-point per game pace being the worst of his career. There’s never been a question that Kane has been one of the most creative and relied upon playmakers in the league over the past five seasons, but it’s never seemed like he himself was the main threat to score. In 2014-15, however, that’s changed.
Through 47 games, the 26-year-old Kane had 22 tallies, one shy of his output in the 47 games he played during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. On pace for possibly the best goal-scoring season of his career, can Kane keep pulling the trigger and become a 40-goal scorer for the first time in his career?
There are two schools of thought on this, one being that he’s entering those prime ages of his career – the 26- to 30-year-old years when players are at their physical peak – and the other being that Kane may be consistent when it comes to finding the back of the net, but never has he been an elite goal scorer, even with all of his tools. That’s not to say Kane can’t be one, just that he hasn’t potted more than 30 in any of his seasons, so calling him a sniper may be a stretch.
In the first school, what has to be considered is that Kane, as has been written many times, has matured a lot on and off the ice. Much of that maturity isn’t just mental, either. There's a physical aspect to it. In earlier seasons, though Kane was still as dynamic as he is today, he would be forced off the puck much easier. This season, it seems no small task to separate the winger from the puck.
There’s also evidence of his growth as a more pure goal scorer in his statistics over the past three seasons. In 2013-14, Kane started red hot, scoring four times in the first five games, and ending October with seven goals in 13 outings. But his pace slowed, he hit an 11-game goalless drought, and eventually injured his knee, resulting in missed time and falling a mere one goal short of 30. It would have been the first time since 2009-10 that Kane hit the mark. The season prior, Kane had 23 goals in 47 games, as noted. Were it not for the lockout, Kane may already have a 40-goal season under his belt.
It’s clear, then, that in the past few seasons, Kane has been finding his groove as a goal scorer, adding an element to his game that wasn’t quite there in the earliest years of his career.
Worth considering is that of the top 10 goal scorers from 2012-13 to now, Kane ranks ninth, with 74 goals in 163 games. Alex Ovechkin is the runaway leader with 110 goals in 172 games, but Kane only trails second place Tyler Seguin by seven tallies. That’s not an incredibly large margin. Always with incredible hands and the ability to set teammates up, maybe Kane has been becoming this ultimate threat for years now – one that could pass, skate, and shoot with the best in the league.
However, the other school of thought says Kane is bound to slow down this season and that he’ll likely fall shy of his current near-40-goal pace.
One of the big reasons is that in no season has Kane eclipsed a shooting percentage of 13 percent at 5-on-5. His current shooting percentage at 5-on-5, 14.74 percent, is in the same company as players like Zemgus Girgensons, Jiri Sekac, and teammate Brandon Saad. Hardly the elite scorers, but they’re also players that aren’t getting the puck on net nearly as much as Kane, and that makes a big difference. Kane’s ability to get the puck on goal, as much as anything, helps create second chance opportunities for himself and teammates.
But there’s also Kane’s goal-scoring pace correlated to his ice time. When it comes to 5-on-5 minutes, in no season has Kane scored more than 1.15 goals per 60 minutes. His current 5-on-5 goals pace would see him scoring roughly 26 goals at even strength, a full five better than any season in his career, and a rate of 1.21 per 60 minutes. Though his goal totals have been at times bolstered by his play with the extra man, he’s more adept at manning the wall and is primarily given the role as the setup man rather than being looked to as the power play’s triggerman.
But even the advanced stats betray the thought that Kane may not be one of the league’s elite goal scorers. Kane’s PDO is well above 100, which is the number one should expect him to come back down to, but his 102.5 mark doesn’t mean he’s having tremendous puck luck on the offensive side of things at even strength. Rather, Kane is having good fortune in that the Blackhawks goaltenders are playing well with him on the ice.
His 5-on-5 on-ice shooting percentage of 9.07 percent is actually floating right around his career average, but it wouldn’t be very surprising to see the number actually go up. Which, realistically, would mean Kane could actually be putting up a larger point, and goal, total than what his numbers currently suggest.
His off-ice training with Darryl Belfry has had a big impact on his game, and it’s clear that something in Kane’s approach to goal scoring has changed over the last few seasons.
But through it all, though, it’s hard to call what Kane is doing a breakout season. After all, at age 21 he had an 88-point year. But this could be the year that puts Kane in the conversation with players like Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and teammate Jonathan Toews. He’s often overshadowed by Toews, who many consider one of the best 200-foot players in the game, but from the redline in, there’s more than a fair argument to be made that Kane belongs in the annual Hart discussions.
When the season is over, Kane could be looking at 40 goals and anywhere from 90 to 100 points. And if that’s not elite scoring, I’m not sure what is.