Ageless Patrick Kane embracing role as an elder statesman for Blackhawks

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Patrick Kane (right) chats with Canucks rookie Brock Boeser during the skills competition in Tampa on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

TAMPA, Fla. — The other veterans’ hockey shorts already are hanging in their stalls, their skates dangling from pegs, their jerseys laid neatly on the laundry hamper. They’re already in the shower, in the training room or on their way out the door.

On the ice, however, it’s always Patrick Kane and the kids. Kane lingers after practices and morning skates with players such as Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Alex DeBrincat. They’re working on stickhandling. They’re doing shooting drills. They’re holding trick-shot contests. They’re chirping each other with every hit post and shanked one-timer.

‘‘The thing I like about them is they’re always working on their game,’’ Kane said. ‘‘It seems like they’re just finding ways to get better. I figured, if they’re doing that, why can’t I do that?’’

Kane always has viewed himself as one of the young guys. He calls everyone a ‘‘kid,’’ no matter their age. He always has gravitated toward the younger players in the room. But he’s 29, in his 11th season. He was an All-Star for the seventh time this weekend. The hard-partying wild child who pushed management to the limit more than a few times early in his career is now an elder statesman in the Blackhawks’ dressing room — and in the hockey world at large.

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But while many of his teammates seem to be feeling the effects of a decade of dominance, of so many hard miles logged, Kane just keeps going. Jonathan Toews is struggling to find his scoring touch, but Kane has 49 points in 49 games. Duncan Keith has taken a step back, but Kane is as dominant as ever. Brent Seabrook has lost a step, but Kane still manages to keep up in an NHL that just keeps getting younger and faster.

At 29, Kane shows no signs of getting old.

‘‘Well, his hairline does, that’s for sure,’’ the Stars’ Tyler Seguin joked.

Seguin, of course, can make those kinds of jokes. He and Kane are close friends and former teammates in Switzerland during the 2012-13 lockout. But the young players in the league hold Kane almost in awe, lumping him in with the veteran greats of the game such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.

On All-Star media day, the brightest young stars in the game talked about how they ‘‘grew up’’ watching Kane, how they modeled themselves after him.

‘‘Just to come here and pick his brain a little bit and see what he does before practices and games is going to be a lot of fun for me,’’ Stars defenseman John Klingberg said.

That respect comes not just from Kane’s lengthy résumé — three Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy, a scoring title, a Conn Smythe Trophy, a Calder Trophy — but from his remarkable consistency. The league and his linemates keep changing, but Kane’s production never does.

The prime of an NHL player used to be his late 20s; now it’s his early 20s. But as the old guard fades and rising superstars such as Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon take over, Kane is one of the few constants, with 801 points in 789 games.

‘‘He’s, if not the most talented, one of the most talented guys in the league,’’ the Jets’ Blake Wheeler said. ‘‘Being around him at the Olympics and the World Cup, he’s a guy that is constantly working on his game, constantly in the gym working on his body. So he’s never going to be a guy that’s overmatched when it comes to skill and youth and the infusion of that talent coming into the league.’’

Kane never has been the fastest skater, never had the hardest shot and never been the biggest or strongest guy on the ice. What separates him is his vision, his creativity and the speed at which he thinks the game. Perhaps that’s why the ravages of age haven’t slowed him down.

‘‘He’s always been one of the quickest guys, one of the fastest thinkers, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change, no matter how old you are,’’ Seguin said. ‘‘He’s always going to seem like one of the young players.’’

Kane never has had to be much of a leader in the Hawks’ dressing room. But that has changed as the team has retooled and gotten dramatically younger in the last year or so. Kane’s the one spending all the time with the younger players, the one who relates best to them. So it was little surprise when Kane had the ‘‘A’’ stitched on his jersey when Seabrook was a healthy scratch Jan. 9 in Ottawa.

The Hawks always will be Toews’ and Seabrook’s team. But it’s Kane who is taking the next generation — the future core — under his wing.

‘‘I think that’s just a natural occurrence when you get older and you’ve played for a long time and played a lot of games and been through a lot of different things,’’ Kane said. ‘‘Whatever I have to offer, however I can help with the younger guys. The future’s so bright for the Blackhawks and some of these young players we have. They can really take off. The future’s in good hands.”

But whenever Schmaltz, DeBrincat and the rest of the kids step up and take the reins of the franchise, it’s a safe bet Kane still will be there and still will be producing.

‘‘It’s crazy, isn’t it?’’ Wheeler said. ‘‘He’s been at these [All-Star Games] since the beginning of his career, so he’s kind of the old man here. He was just a kid not too long ago, and now he’s calling the shots. He’s been around a while, but it’s crazy to think he’s probably only halfway home.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com


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