SAN JOSE, Calif. — Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, a leading face of the next wave of NHL stars, was barely old enough to drive when Patrick Kane debuted for the Blackhawks.
Like many of the league’s youngsters, he spent a lot of his teenage years watching Kane’s highlights on YouTube and trying to duplicate his moves. Now they’re in the All-Star Game together, and it’s surreal to see Kane as the grizzled old-timer of the group.
“I’m sure it’s a little weird for him,” Matthews mused. “He’s, what, 28 or 29?”
“Thirty? Well, yeah, maybe he is the old man now,” Matthews said. “But he’s still an incredible player. He still gets it done. He puts you on the edge of your seat every time he’s out there.”
That’s why age isn’t a sensitive subject for Kane in Year 12. He earned his way to San Jose with 29 goals and 71 points — he’s on pace for career highs — and looks as agile as ever.
Getting older is merely a novelty to Kane, one of eight 30-somethings on the Hawks and only four years younger than his coach. This is his eighth All-Star appearance, and he noticed as soon as the rosters came out that it’s the most of any player in this year’s game.
He shook his head and laughed. He has seen dozens of All-Stars come and go over the last decade, and 22 of this year’s selections are making their first or second appearance.
“It’s pretty cool that they watched me when they were younger, and they wanted to take some parts of my game to put into their game,” Kane said. “When I hear that, I don’t think, ‘Oh, man, I’m like so old,’ or whatever. It’s cool that these guys like me.”
He remembers being in that phase when he first made it in 2009, which doesn’t feel like a decade ago to him.
He was one of the upstarts in Montreal that year, along with Jonathan Toews, and was dazed in the presence of Mike Modano, Joe Thornton and Alexei Kovalev.
“All of a sudden, you’re considered to be an All-Star with these guys,” said Kane, who has made it every year since other than when it was scrapped for the Olympics or because of labor issues. “It was pretty wild.”
It makes him wish he’d asked for a stick or a jersey from one of them like a lot of his young teammates will after Saturday’s game at SAP Center. They’ll surely be stopping by Kane’s locker before they go.
Hurricanes forward Sebastian Aho started clicking on Kane videos when he was 15 and still does. Same story for Avalanche winger Mikko Rantanen, who’s making his All-Star debut and thought, “It’s pretty funny that I’m here with him,” after watching the Hawks’ first Stanley Cup run when he was 14.
Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, a first-time All-Star at 19, is just happy he doesn’t have to deal with Kane because they’re both on the Central Division team.
One of the newcomers already had his moment with Kane last summer. Bruins winger David Pastrnak, 22, met him when the two shot a Bauer commercial in Maine.
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“What he can do on the ice is unbelievable,” Pastrnak said. “Sometimes you don’t recognize it as much during games when you’re playing against each other because you don’t have much time, but when I saw him this summer, it’s just crazy.
“It’s awesome to skate around with him and see what he can do.”
The feeling is mutual. Kane is just as impressed by the young All-Stars as they are by him.
He still thinks of himself as a kid in some ways, and this weekend remains a thrill for him. He can’t imagine skipping it for rest or treating it like an inconvenience.
And one of his favorite parts is getting to hang out with the other players, regardless of the age difference.
“I love being here at these types of events,” Kane said. “It’s cool to meet the young guys, too. This is a young man’s league, and it’s fun to talk to them here about their seasons and their careers and different things like that.
“I’m getting a little bit older, but I’m still having fun with it. I guess it’s weird to be one of the older guys because I was always one of the younger guys coming to these events, but it’s still pretty fun.”