Our Pledge To You


Jonathan Toews goes on the offensive in Patrick Kane’s absence

PHILADELPHIA — The look on Brent Seabrook’s face was priceless — an are-you-serious mix of bewilderment and bemusement — and, to be fair, it was a pretty ridiculous question.

Is it possible that Jonathan Toews, a guy with at least 20 goals in all eight of his NHL seasons, a guy universally considered one of the world’s best players, a guy who’s adored in Chicago and all but worshipped in Canada, doesn’t get enough credit? As an offensive talent, at least?

“Does he not get enough credit?” Seabrook almost spat out. “I think he gets a ton of credit. I think he gets a ton of credit from everywhere. He’s a great player, and everyone knows it.”

OK, fair enough. But that respect, the reverence in some parts of the hockey community, stems more from his all-around game — his defense, his intensity, his faceoff prowess, his leadership — than his considerable skill. So maybe it was only fitting that when Toews earned his 500th point in the final minute of Monday night’s 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, it came not on one of his dazzling end-to-end rushes or slick passes from his office behind the net, but on a blocked shot — crouching in front of a Jeff Skinner blast in the slot, the puck springing Joakim Nordstrom and Andrew Shaw in the other direction for the game-sealing empty-netter.

“Not the ideal way to get it,” Toews shrugged.

Even after hitting an offensive milestone, Joel Quenneville wound up talking about Toews’ defense.

“The one thing about [Toews], people might look at his numbers offensively, but I think what he does without the puck and defensively — he always should be considered for the Selke [Trophy] every year.”

But Toews’ offensive skills rival those of the league’s elite players, too. A GoPro video of Toews outdueling Patrick Kane in a one-on-one showdown over the summer, currently being shown ad nauseum on hockey broadcasts, is proof. And ever since Kane suffered a broken clavicle on Feb. 24, Toews has stepped into Kane’s role as the driving force of the Hawks offense.

Toews scored on the power play that Kane’s injury resulted in, then scored again the following game, and has six goals and six assists in the 12 games since the injury, moving him into the top 25 in scoring in the NHL. He has 23 goals and 37 assists through 72 games.

“We all feel that responsibility to step up when we lose one of our top players, especially Kaner, with the season he’s been having,” Toews said, before, of course, transitioning the conversation to defense. “It’s up to us to be smarter defensively, too. If we’re not going to score as many goals, or we’re missing a big part of our offense, we’ve got to be smarter in more ways than one.”

Toews has shown his skill plenty of times in the past. He’s the NHL’s leader in shootout goals with 40 on 80 attempts, the fourth-highest shooting percentage among players with at least 50 attempts. He’s a gritty power forward in front of the net and a brilliant passer from behind it.

But as a center, particularly a center in Quenneville’s system, Toews’ defensive responsibilities come first. So while a winger such as Patrick Kane or Patrick Sharp — even while being smart in their own end — can take chances and be more aggressive offensively, Toews usually has to hang back and play it safe.

Even he sometimes wonders what he could do if he were let off the leash.

“A little bit,” he said. “I guess it’s just not in my nature as a player. … I’m not going to lie, it’s fun to score goals. That’s the way any forward probably sees himself, is being an offensive guy. But you’ve go to be responsible to play at this level.”

Of course, few can play at Toews’ level.

“He’s been recognized more for his defensive side, his leadership side, things like that,” Seabrook said. “But he leads us offensively, too. We jump on his back every night.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus