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A Renaissance In Chicago?

Tuesday, 06.26.2007 / 4:21 PM / Features
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A Renaissance In Chicago?

Larry Wigge | NHL.com columnist

Are the winds of change already in the works? Is the balance of power in the Central Division already changing?

Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon was absolutely giddy following the weekend in Columbus in which he received seven or eight good offers for the first-overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He considered three or four of them very seriously, including one from the division rival St. Louis Blues in which St. Louis was willing to trade its three first-round picks -- 9, 24 and 26 -- for the No. 1 choice.

"We’ve already added Sergei Samsonov to help on the wings and Andrei Zyuzin on defense in trades to strengthen the core of our team and we think there’s a chance that Jonathan Toews and Jack Skille (first-round picks in 2006 and 2005, respectively, could join us this year)," Tallon gushed.

And, Tallon was just getting started after using the No. 1 overall pick to choose highly skilled American-born right winger Patrick Kane.

"Now we get Patrick Kane with the first pick this year," Tallon continued. "I’ve been around this club for a long time and I don’t ever remember us having as good a reading and list as we did on this draft.

"I can’t rule out Kane making this team or who knows beyond that and Akim Aliu (who was chosen in the second round) is speaking like he thinks he can make the jump to the NHL right now and Maxime Tanguay (another 2007 draft pick) is a very skilled player."

In Chicago, the Blackhawks are beginning to regain the support of their fans after missing the playoffs the last four seasons -- and in eight of the last nine campaigns.

A big part of that optimism is sparked by the selections of Skille, Toews and Kane up front, where the Blackhawks have had big-time problems scoring these past few seasons.

The first great sign of that rebirth came last Thursday, when the Hawks announced they were going to hold a party at United Center on Friday night during the first-round of the draft. They billed it as a chance for the fans to quiz the team’s No. 1 pick, along with Tallon. All the fans had to do was go the team’s website and print out the number of tickets they needed to attend the party. Some 3,500 tickets were requested.

"We couldn’t be more excited by the interest our fans have showed us," Tallon said.

Don’t be a bit surprised to see Toews and Kane on the same line next season.

Kane may only be 5-10, 160 pounds, but don’t be misled by his slight stature. He led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring last season with 62 goals and 83 assists in 58 games. And he also had a pretty good World Junior Tournament for the United States in Sweden.

''The size issue was put to bed at the World Juniors, as far as I’m concerned,'' Tallon said. ''That's where we really saw how good he was. That's an under-20 tournament and 18-year-olds usually struggle. But he was one of the best players over there. That spoke volumes.

"It's the size of his heart that's more important. Pat gets his nose dirty, gets into the traffic areas and he doesn't get knocked down. When he gets stronger it's going to be even more difficult to knock him down."

So, what did the fans ask Kane in the question-and-answer session?

"One little girl wanted to know whether I’ve ever played on a team with any girls," Kane said. "I didn’t know quite how to answer that one.

"Another one wanted to know how much I knew about Chicago sports -- and I told him I heard I might be able to throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game on Monday, which was exciting. I’ve always associated the Bears with Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Brian Urlacher. I followed the Bulls in their glory years when they had Michael Jordan. And who couldn’t be lifted out of his seat watching a Denis Savard spin-o-rama move?"

Now it will be up to Tallon to bring another big name in free agency, which starts July 1. But it’s already clear that Martin Havlat will have some more offensive weapons to complement the great skills he showed Chicago fans last season.