Patrick Kane spent much of his career cycling through linemates, a new center or a new left wing showing up on a nearly nightly basis.
He broke into the league alongside Jonathan Toews, fared well with Patrick Sharp, won a Stanley Cup with Michal Handzus, went on a tear with Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards and got a spin with nearly every forward in the Blackhawks’ system from 2012 to 2015. Then
Artemi Panarin showed up, and the revolving door stopped spinning.
So while Kane is close friends with Brandon Saad and understands the reasoning behind the trade that sent Panarin to the Blue Jackets and brought Saad back to Chicago, he wasn’t exactly happy about it.
‘‘I’d be lying to you if I was sitting up here saying I wasn’t disappointed when it first went down, no doubt about it,’’ Kane said at the 10th annual Hawks convention at the downtown Hilton. ‘‘Artemi’s a great kid, someone I got along with really well off the ice and had that chemistry with on the ice. It was just fun to play with him every night. I’ll miss him, for sure.’’
Kane had his two most productive seasons with Panarin by his side. He won the Hart Trophy and the scoring title in 2015-16, breaking the 100-point barrier for the first time, then posted 89 points last season. But he didn’t win the Stanley Cup in those two seasons, and Panarin was a victim of general manager Stan Bowman’s offseason overhaul that sought to make the Hawks a little bigger, a little faster and a lot harder to play against.
With Saad slotting back in at his old spot on the top line alongside Toews — ‘‘That’s the plan,’’ Saad said — the question is, who will play with Kane? Will a healthy and rejuvenated Sharp fill the role until a next-generation prospect such as Alex DeBrincat is ready to take it over? Will Nick Schmaltz, who prefers to play center but wouldn’t turn down a chance to play alongside Kane, get the shot now that Saad is taking his spot? Or will Schmaltz perhaps bump Artem Anisimov down to the third line and take over in the middle on Kane’s line, a spot in which he looked great for a brief stint last season? Does Ryan Hartman, coming off a 19-goal rookie campaign, get a crack at a top-six role?
Kane’s not sure. But he doesn’t fear the revolving door returning because he likes all the options.
‘‘Who knows what’s going to happen?’’ Kane said. ‘‘I could have better chemistry with a guy like Schmaltz or better chemistry with someone like Hartman. And I know I played well with Sharp in the past, too. I’m looking forward to the season and the next challenge.’’
Sharp is the most intriguing option. He’s coming off a dreadful season in which he twice missed a month because of a concussion, then cut his season short to have hip surgery. Four months removed from the surgery, Sharp is already back on the ice and raring to go.
And he might end up being coach Joel Quenneville’s Swiss Army knife. He can be Kane’s left wing or provide some desperately needed depth scoring on the third line. He even can play the right wing alongside Saad and Toews if Richard Panik regresses.
Sharp likely will get the first crack at playing on Kane’s line, but he’s ready for anything.
‘‘Playing for Joel for as long as I have in the past, I know that combinations can get moved around quite a bit, depending on the game, depending on the time of year and the way different guys are playing,’’ Sharp said. ‘‘That’s something I’m prepared for and something I’m looking forward to, as well.
‘‘I had my best years playing for coach Q, and I know wherever he puts me in the lineup is probably going to be best for me and for the team, as well.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.