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Blackhawks considering Kane at center

Sunday, 09.25.2011 / 10:40 PM / News
By Brian Hedger  - NHL.com Correspondent



DETROIT
-- The Chicago Blackhawks have already moved Patrick Kane away from his old neighbor Jonathan Toews inside the locker room.

Now there's a possibility Kane could also be moved away from Toews on the ice -- to center on the second line. Following a 4-3 shootout loss to the rival Detroit Red Wings on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said he's seriously contemplating the idea.

Kane, who hasn't played center since 2008 for former Hawks coach Denis Savard, could see time there in Chicago's remaining exhibition games.

"We might try (Patrick) Kane at center," Quenneville said. "He's been playing center throughout scrimmages and practices now. We'll see."

Kane, a two-time All-Star at right wing who is still recovering from offseason wrist surgery, didn't have great success playing center for Savard. However, defensive improvements in his game combined with the lack of a third NHL-caliber center emerging in camp helped spark the idea.

"He's played center most of his life," Quenneville said. "Defensively, he's gotten better as he's grown ... down low on the walls. It's something we're going to at least take a look at."

Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman brought in six free agents this summer -- including forwards Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo and Brett McLean -- but none are capable of handling the second-line center role.

Toews and third-line center Dave Bolland are currently the lone true NHL centermen on the roster, but forward Patrick Sharp has played in the middle on the second line a good deal. He was thought to be heading there again to start the regular season until Sunday's news.

Sharp also spent time playing wing on the top line with Toews and Kane, and there are some who think he's more productive there. Other than Sharp, however, there is a noticeable dearth of NHL-ready centers capable of driving the Hawks' high-octane second line that features star forward Marian Hossa on the right side.

Coaches and the Hawks' front office were hoping 21-year old Swedish center Marcus Kruger would have a big training camp and cement the job, but that hasn't happened. Kruger came straight to the Windy City from the Swedish Elite League toward the end of last season to fill a void caused Sharp went down with a knee injury and Bolland was sidelined with a severe concussion.

He played seven games and didn't score while posting a minus-4 rating, but showed some promise in the Hawks' first-round series loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Kruger played in five games and added an assist and a plus-2 rating, while also showing flashes of the defensive puck-hounding ability that Bolland employs.

However, Quenneville sounded less than enthused with Kruger's camp thus far on Sunday, saying he's "just been OK."

Forward Michael Frolik, whom Bowman acquired mid-season last year in a trade with the Florida Panthers, has limited experience at center -- but Quenneville wants to keep him flanked outside of Bolland on the third line.

Kane didn't make the trip to Detroit and was unavailable for comment, but talked about his experience playing center when he was younger during an interview prior to the 2008 season catalogued on the Blackhawks' website.

"I pretty much played center my whole life growing up and right before I went to the (U.S. National Team Developmental program) they switched me to the off-side wing, the right wing side," Kane told reporters at the time. "Up until then I'd played center my whole life, so it's just re-learning that position."

In that interview, Kane tried to downplay the switch as much as possible.

"Center shouldn't be that much different," he said. "I'll get the puck more in the middle and obviously you have to work harder down in your own zone down low and things like that. Other than that, it's the same game. Hopefully we can play offense all night."

Savard ended up giving Kane a brief look at center in the preseason before switching him back to wing. Four years later, it appears he'll get another chance in the middle.

Kane's comments in 2008 now feel like déjà vu.

"You look at exhibition games … you might as well try it out," he said at the time. "If it doesn't go the right way, it's not like the games really mean anything. You want to go out there and get the skills back and things like that, but you might as well try it now rather than in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If it works out, then I can fill that second-line center hole. If it doesn't, I can go back to the wing on the top line where I'm comfortable. We'll see how it goes."