Before a game on Long Island last season, with the Blackhawks riding an eight-game win streak powered by a prodigiously productive second line, Kris Versteeg leaned over to Patrick Kane and told him, “You know, there’s one thing you haven’t won yet.”
It’s true. Kane has three Stanley Cups. He has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2013. He won the Calder Trophy as a rookie. He’s won an Olympic medal in 2010. But Kane, a player who’s well aware of his place in history, has never won a scoring title.
In fact, no American ever has.
“I know last year, he would have liked to have won it before he got hurt, and kind of [had] set out to do before he got hurt,” Versteeg said. “When he got hurt, it wasn’t fun for him. So to see him doing this well is awesome. It’s exciting for the league and for the fans.”
Kane enters the All-Star weekend, which begins Friday in Nashville, as arguably the best player in the world. He leads the league with 73 points — an eye-popping 15 more than his nearest competitor, Dallas’ Jamie Benn (who won the scoring title with just 87 points last season). Kane has more goals (30) and more assists (43) than anyone, and is the front-runner for the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
But that elusive scoring title is tantalizing for Kane, who takes particular pride in being one of the top American players of all time.
“You think about the American players that have played the game, when you’re right up there, it’s pretty special,” said Kane, who set the American point-streak record with a 26-game run earlier this season. “There’s been so many players that have kind of led the way for USA Hockey, now it’s kind of like the passing of the torch, where you want to be that guy, or one of a few guys that can help develop the game in the United States. I think it’s important.”
Kane spoke openly about his desire to win the scoring title last season, and was leading the league when a broken clavicle ended his regular season in February. This year, he’s been more cautious when talking about the Art Ross Trophy, despite his gaudy numbers. As he approached the 18-game point streak record shared by Eddie Olczyk and Phil Kessel, it began to weigh on Kane and affect his play. He doesn’t want the looming scoring title to do the same.
“I try not to think about it too much,” he said. “I’ve kind of noticed [that] if you look too far ahead, or look in the future too much, it only works negatively on you. Worry about playing the right way, and see what comes of it.”
Kane has been getting better every year, morphing from a playmaker into a sniper, now threatening the magic number of 50 goals; he’s already tied his career high with 30. But Kane’s the first to point out that his linemates, rookie phenom Artemi Panarin and big center Artem Anisimov, have played a significant role. While the line with Versteeg and Brad Richards had a great run last season, this is the best — and most consistent — line Kane has had in his Hawks career.
And he’s making the most of it.
“What he’s doing is kind of not human,” Versteeg said. “There are five guys in the league with a point a game and he’s got 1.4 points a game. He has 30 goals. It’s pretty amazing on any given night to see how well he’s playing, and what he’s doing. If he can get to those marks, I’m sure it’d be an amazing accomplishment for him, and he’d be excited about it. I know there’d be a lot of guys excited for him, too.”