Blackhawks star Patrick Kane isn’t the player he was when he first entered the league in 2007. He’s better.
Kane clearly possesses that unmistakable clutch gene, scoring crucial goals in effortless fashion in pressure-packed games. And his loaded résumé — three Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Calder Trophy — speaks for itself.
As Kane enters his 12th NHL season, he hasn’t shown any signs of decline. And general manager Stan Bowman doesn’t expect him to anytime soon.
“It’s unusual to be that good,” Bowman said. “He’s going to be one of these guys — there’s very few of them in sports — that can maintain a super-high level of accomplishment well into their 30s.”
Kane has come a long way — as a player and person — and Bowman has witnessed that evolution firsthand.
“He lived to play hockey,” Bowman said of Kane, who lived with Bowman after being drafted first overall. “He was just hoping to make the team, which in hindsight seems like a silly comment, but he just didn’t want to get sent back to London at that time.”
Bowman described Kane as the “ultimate rink rat.” He said Kane’s hunger to improve and his love of the game haven’t changed.
What has changed is Kane’s life off the ice.
As a youthful adult breaking into professional sports, Kane seemed to epitomize a “young, wild and free’’ lifestyle. He frequented popular bars and clubs around Chicago, and his visits often were documented and distributed online.
“[Social media] changed a lot,” Kane said.
Hawks management didn’t know how to handle it at first.
“We were all sort of learning this at the same time,” Bowman said. “We didn’t set up this plan to try to make everything they do known. It just sort of happened as the world progressed, and they got swept up in it.”
Said Kane: “When it first started coming out, you didn’t really know what to expect with it. And then pretty much everything that you did was going to be on social media.”
Headline after headline. Tweet after tweet. Photos and videos of Kane’s partying antics circulated the internet, and concern grew as to whether Kane could shake his reckless ways.
So what changed?
“He’s more of a man now,” Bowman said. “He was a kid back then.”
Essentially, Kane grew up, reprioritized his life and became a homebody.
“I’m very content going home and hanging out with my girlfriend,” said Kane, who had a team-high 76 points last season. “Being at home on the couch, kind of getting myself ready for the next day, getting a good night’s sleep, all that good stuff you kind of appreciate a little bit more now that I’m older.
“Not to say I didn’t appreciate it back then. But you’re young and kind of seeing the city and checking out different things, and some things are obviously pretty exciting at that young age as they would be to anyone.”
Luckily for Kane, his off-ice behavior never seemed to affect his on-ice performance.
Bowman said Kane sets himself apart by never being satisfied.
“He probably doesn’t get enough credit for his dedication to making himself better,” Bowman said. “Every year, even the year he was the MVP of the league, that summer it almost gave him even more of a drive to get even better. It’s almost like you have success and you realize how good you can be, that almost solidifies your intensity of trying to train even harder.
“He’s just the complete package. I don’t know how you defend him. It’s hard to deny him the puck because he’s smart at getting open, and once he has it, it’s hard to get it away from him. So I’ve seen the evolution of his game [from] being a tricky player when he first came into the league [to] he can do it all now.”
Kane still is looking forward to what the future holds.
“The way I’ve seen my career go, I don’t know if I’d change much,” said Kane, who turns 30 Nov. 19. “I kind of like the sound of 29 now better than 30. It’s fun to see what the unknown is for me and for the team and just kind of enjoy the ride.”