The following excerpt is taken from the new book, "One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks."
When I go out and work with young hockey players or speak around the community, I often ask them, “What’s the best thing about history?” The answer is: You can learn from it. I believe there’s no player who has benefited more from his personal history and his experience than Patrick Kane.
No matter what you do — as a parent, a writer, a broadcaster or a National Hockey League player — you learn from certain moments, and you become a little more at ease and a little better the next time you go through it. In the maturation of any young player, let alone a superstar like Kaner, you’re going to have lots of different obstacles to overcome on and off the ice. Even after 2010, there was some question about whether or not he could be a difference-maker consistently, but I think his growth as a player has allowed him to become that dominant force we knew he could be. And what’s more, in the six years we’ve watched him in a Blackhawks sweater, he’s consistently performed at the highest levels.
Kane’s legacy thus far in his short hockey career has been the way he showed up on the biggest stages. When the game was on the line, when the Olympic medal was on the line, or when the Stanley Cup was on the line, where was he? To this point, he’s been right in the middle of everything, and he’s always been a key player. That speaks to his character and motivation; at the hardest times, he showed up. That’s all you can want from someone.
It hasn’t always been easy, especially for someone who has been in the spotlight since his first game in Chicago. It’s tempting, especially with the kind of success Kaner had so early in his career, to rest on your laurels. But there’s a way to go about approaching your craft on a daily basis. It’s easy to come to the rink when things are going well, but you can’t only care when it’s convenient. You’ve got to be able to contribute even when the offensive part of your game isn’t going.
When you’ve got a talented playmaker like Kaner — who, in my mind, is already one of the league’s three top passers — it’s easy to be thinking about offense all of the time. But last season, I thought even his play without the puck was outstanding, and that was a part of his game I know [Head Coach] Joel Quenneville really stressed with him. I saw much better focus and understanding of the game; the way he battled and got in the middle of everything really let his overall game improve.
In my mind, one of the turning points of the Blackhawks’ playoff run was the latter part of their series against Los Angeles. Kaner hadn’t found much success on the scoresheet early in the series, but the goal he scored in Game 4 at Staples Center, tapping in a bouncing puck near the crease, propelled him for the rest of the playoffs.
You can skate a thousand miles an hour and make every pass, but if you don’t get inside the dots, which is the most dangerous area of the ice, you’re not going to have success. That’s where Kaner went for the rest of the series. If you think about the goals that he scored, he was around the crease, chipping goals in. He was willing to go to the middle of the ice, and it paid off for him.
In 2010, I wouldn’t call him hesitant, exactly, but the 2013 version of Kaner was comfortable with making those adjustments and changing his approach. You could see the confidence in himself and his game coming through. He always wanted the puck.
As he’s changed, the one thing that has remained extraordinarily consistent is Kaner’s attitude toward the game. I still see the same kid now that I did when he was 18. He really enjoys the sport. There are a lot of guys I knew who loved everything about being a pro athlete except for actually playing; they loved everything that came with it, but not the work that they had to put in. Kaner’s completely different — he loves playing. His body language has never changed; he still seems to get excited when he puts the skates on.
In my career, I was lucky enough to win one Stanley Cup [with the New York Rangers in 1994]; I thought I understood just how hard it is to win, but until you actually attain it, you really have no idea. Players always say that they’ll do anything to win, but when you’re sitting there with the trophy, you look back and can’t believe just how difficult it actually was. Patrick has been to the top twice in his short career, and he’s been a key contributor to both winning teams.
What may be the scariest part — at least for the rest of the league — is that I think he can make himself into even more of a complete player. That’s how I would challenge him: Can he kill penalties? Can he become a 35- or 40-goal scorer? Can he be in the top three in scoring? There’s still so much room for him to grow and to escalate his game. He’s proven himself in every other role.
With an Olympic medal, two Stanley Cup rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his credit, Kaner is well on his way to seeing his number in the rafters. He’s probably got one “8” on the banner already. I’d be more than happy to stitch the other one on there myself if he keeps delivering on the ice.
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