Hard to overlook Sharp's value to Blackhawks
Wednesday, 12.8.2010 / 12:16 PM CT / Features
By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent
CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane just shook his head from the Chicago Blackhawks' bench.
Teammate Patrick Sharp had just scored for the 16th time this season in the first period of a Nov. 30 home win against the rival St. Louis Blues. Leading a 2-on-1 rush, Sharp used a few head-and-shoulder fakes to deke Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak to the ice before pulling the puck to the backhand and scoring from the blue paint.
It was merely the continuation of a red-hot start for the unheralded 28-year old, who leads the Hawks in scoring with 29 points. Over on Chicago's bench sat Kane, the Hawks' second-leading scorer.
"I looked at the guy next to me and I was like, 'This guy is on fire. This guy is really hot,' " Kane told NHL.com in an interview before he suffered a lower-body injury on Dec. 5 against Calgary. "He's playing great and he's just fun to watch."
Now that Kane may miss a stretch of games with his injury, Sharp's presence becomes even more important for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Marian Hossa and Fernando Pisani were already out with injuries, and Kane going down further tests the team's depth of talent.
Good thing Sharp is on a tear.
A quick glance at his numbers is eye-opening. After the Hawks' first 28 games, Sharp was on pace to score a career-high 47 goals and 85 points. He was also on pace for 360 shots on goal, which would be 127 more than his career-high of 233 last season.
Sharp has also improved his minus-5 rating steadily after it dipped to minus-12 in mid-November. In essence, Sharp is proving that Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman made a great decision to keep him as a "core player" rather than trading him in the team's off-season payroll purge.
"I think I'm playing the exact same minutes and in the same situations as last year, so the opportunity stayed the same," Sharp told NHL.com. "I definitely feel that I want to show my value to the Chicago Blackhawks. They had a lot of changes and a lot of tough decisions to make and let a lot of good players go. I'm fortunate to be one of the ones they kept and I want to prove my value."
Some might argue that he proved it last spring by co-leading Chicago in scoring (11 goals, 22 points) along with former Hawk Dustin Byfuglien during the team's first Stanley Cup title run in 49 years. Sharp said that postseason success is a big factor in his current success.
"I grew up watching the playoffs, and it's the best time of the year for a fan or a player," he said. To be participating in them and to go to the (Cup Final) was huge for me and my personal confidence. To score goals the way I did in the regular season and then do it on the big stage was even bigger. I was real excited to get started this season -- and so far, so good."
Add in Sharp's marriage during the summer, and life seems to be great -- despite the fact he was left off the fan ballot for this season's All-Star Game. If that oversight bothers him, Sharp's outward reaction proves why he was voted the most "presidential" Hawks player by teammates.
"It's not about me," Sharp said. "I'm on a good team, I'm on a good power play and I'm out there with good players. As long as I'm out there getting opportunities, hopefully the puck will keep going in."
If it does, it won't come as a surprise to the Hawks -- who by now are used to watching Sharp either deposit pucks into the goal himself or set others up to score.
"When you're coming down and you just see netting and you don't see the goalie, that must be a good feeling for him," Hawks forward Troy Brouwer told NHL.com. "He can make a play, as well."
Kane knows that all too well.
After the Hawks traded several of Kane's closest friends in their cap crunch, Sharp and Kane became closer. They were also in a friendly points competition before Kane got hurt.
"I don't want to pump his tires too much, because we've been chirping with each other a little bit back and forth and having fun with everything," Kane told NHL.com before his injury. "We both kind of know that it's fun to be in a point race with someone and have a competition like that. It's kind of fun to be there with him and we're enjoying it. It's nice to have someone who keeps pushing you."
Meanwhile, the Hawks are pushing Sharp for a nod to the All-Star Game.
"He's had a great start to the season," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "(He's) earned every opportunity to be considered and is deserving of being on the team."
The only problem -- if you want to call it that -- is the number of other stars on Chicago's roster, including Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook. Sharp has proven that he's talented enough to be mentioned with them, yet often isn't.
According to Brouwer, that needs to change.
"He may get overlooked because of other players on our team, but he's a name that shouldn't be lost and shouldn't be forgotten," Brouwer said. "(He) should get some recognition as far as the All-Star Game goes. He's obviously helping our team out big time, with a lot of key goals, and that's why we kept him around."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent