Patrick Kane has been driving the Blackhawks’ offense for more than a decade.
Now, Kane finds himself driving the Blackhawks, period.
At age 32, with Jonathan Toews away from the team and the forwards around him many years younger, Kane has emerged as a late-blooming leader.
“His production is better than ever, but to me, it’s all about the work ethic away from the puck,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “That type of team-first mentality, that’s what we’re trying to build here so we can have long-term success.
“Not only is he doing it, but he’s encouraging other guys to do it. Just little things like [line changes] in the offensive zone, everyone sees that.”
Kane has learned to care more about defense, to mentor younger players, to talk like a Toews-esque captain. Previously the only member of the Hawks’ longtime core not in an official captaincy role, Kane finally became a permanent alternate captain last season after Brent Seabrook’s injury, and he has lived up to the expectations of the “A.”
On this year’s team, Kane and Duncan Keith are essentially the only two Hawks organization veterans remaining, so his leadership has been even more needed.
After the wild 6-5 shootout victory Tuesday against the Blue Jackets, in which Kane tallied a goal and three assists but the Hawks blew a 5-3 lead and conceded an unnecessary point to a division rival, he led off his news conference by lamenting the latter storyline, not relishing the former. Colliton appreciates that kind of team-first rhetoric from his best player.
“He’s been . . . very vocal with the team about making sure we’re doing the right things and encouraging the other guys when they make those team decisions,” Colliton said.
Kane’s growing leadership and well-roundedness add more bulk to his Hart Trophy campaign, which recently has begun accumulating buzz even outside of Chicago, as the league’s most valuable player.
The Hart largely comes down to point production every year, though, and Kane certainly excels in that department.
Kane is up to 30 points in 20 games this season after erupting for seven points in his last two. Only once in his 14 previous seasons — in 2015-16, when he did win the Hart — has Kane recorded more points through his first 20 games.
He’s also tied for third in the league in scoring and he’s by far the highest scorer on any U.S. team, seven points ahead of Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. (The other five of the league’s top six scorers play in Canada).
Even including Canadians, Kane and Connor McDavid are in a league of their own as far as share of team production. McDavid has scored or assisted on 38 of the Oilers’ 76 goals — exactly 50%. Kane has scored or assisted on 30 of the Hawks’ 61 — just under 50%. Nobody else is anywhere close.
The emergence of Alex DeBrincat as Kane’s explosive partner-in-crime has helped, as Kane has frequently mentioned, but there’s no doubt the Hawks’ offense runs through No. 88 first and foremost.
“[I’m] just trying to help the team as much as possible with the way I play,” Kane said humbly Tuesday. “I’ve had some pretty good seasons the last couple of years, too. Just trying to get better each year, I guess. I still feel like there’s always things I can do better.”
Kane is destined for plenty more attention in the coming weeks. He’s two goals away from 400 in his career and he’s on track to play his 1,000th regular-season game March 9 in Dallas.
But while the individual accolades roll in, the Hawks are enjoying the increasingly selfless side of their most dangerous offensive weapon.
“When you’re unselfish, it comes around,” Colliton said. “When he’s driving that, it sure is powerful.”