Kane in focus on the ice, on camera
It's already been four-plus seasons since Kane scored 21 goals and added 51 assists for an impressive 72-point season in 2007-08 after the Chicago Blackhawks selected him No.1 overall in the 2007 NHL Draft.
Since then, the now 23-year old Kane has come much further in his career path. He's scored more than 20 goals and 70 points in each of his first four seasons, has eight goals and 23 assists in 30 games this year and also scored that memorable overtime goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final in Philadelphia to clinch the Hawks' first championship in 49 years.
"I always think of Kaner as that rookie and that first-year player that burst onto the scene and was so explosive and exciting," Sharp said. "It's hard to believe he's played four years in between then until now."
It's also not hard to believe that Kane was picked to be the first subject of a new day-in-the-life reality TV series by NHL Original Productions called "NHL 36," which will debut at 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday on Versus. Kane was given a microphone and followed around by a camera crew in order to film the show, which will lead into the Hawks facing the Minnesota Wild in a tough road game pitting the Western Conference's top two teams.
"It's 36 hours with a camera in your face and a microphone on," Kane said after Tuesday's practice at the United Center. "It's a little bit different. It's not something you hope you can do every day, but at the same time it was pretty cool thinking that a camera's following you around and seeing what you're doing in your daily life."
A lot of what he's been doing this season is progressing as a player. Still, it's hard not to look at him and still see the excitable blond kid with an array of showcase moves and the patented "playoff mullet" that he's worn in the past two postseasons.
It even had "steps" shaved into the sides, which is kind of fitting for Kane now as he continues to take new steps toward becoming a better all-around player. Kane wasn't entirely thrilled with his performance last season, even though he put up a solid 27 goals and 46 assists despite missing nine games because of a nagging ankle injury.
He was also rendered largely ineffective by the rival Vancouver Canucks in a gut-wrenching seven-game playoff loss in the first round, which appeared to agitate him afterward. Following a tense overtime loss in the seventh game of that series, Kane put on a serious face -- which featured a shiner masking one of his eyes from a hard hit -- and told reporters he was re-dedicating himself to improving in the off-season.
That effort was going great until a nagging pain in his wrist turned out to be a broken bone that needed surgical repair and ended his weight-room work. Kane, however, didn't miss much of the Hawks' training camp -- during which Chicago coach Joel Quenneville announced he would try Kane at center on the second line, as opposed to right wing on the top line.
A similar move had been tried by former Hawks coach Denis Savard to start Kane's second season, but that lasted all of one period of an exhibition game. This one lasted more than a quarter of the season.
It also showed that Kane could, indeed, handle the middle. He still pulled out some dazzling moves with an elite skillset, such as his flawless blind spin-o-rama backhand pass to Hossa for a tap-in goal, but he also proved something to Hawks coaches and his teammates.
Now they know that No.88 is willing to do some dirty work to win games, if needed. Proof that "Kaner" is growing up as a player?
"I think so," Sharp said. "I know there was a lot of question marks about moving him to center at the start of the year, but he definitely answered those questions. He gets recognized and noticed for the fancy plays and the great passes and the things most guys can't do offensively, but you ask our coaching staff and the guys in the room, and we trust him in a lot of situations."
Sharp paused for a second to think about it.
"I'll even go so far as to (include) taking the odd faceoff … which I thought I'd never say," he said.
Kane himself might not have thought of it as recently as last season. Now, that's all changed. He seems more focused and more serious than in the past, and all it took to notice was his demeanor when questioned about the position switch.
Kane bristled a little when it was hinted that he might be upset enough to pout about it. In fact, Kane did just the opposite.
"I think he took it on as a challenge and he heard people saying they didn't think he could make it and do it," Sharp said. "He certainly proved everyone wrong, so it was nice to see him back in his own end just playing that committed hockey, checking and getting in there and finding those loose pucks. It was fun to watch. I like him on the ice whatever position he's at, whether it's wing or at center."
Kane's feelings about where he lines up haven't changed, either.
"You play hockey to play the game and try to help your team," he said. "I feel if I'm on the ice at center or wing or wherever, I'm just going to go out there and play hockey and kind of play the way I play no matter what position it is. I'm not really worried about what position I'm lined up at … just about playing the game and trying to play the right way. I think I've done a pretty good job of that this year, but I can still get better at it."
He'll be the first to point out that he isn't lighting up the scoreboard in terms of goals just yet, but Kane is also not fretting about it. He's happy to be reunited with Toews, since they've worked well together in the past, but he isn't sweating the fact they haven't clicked for many goals recently.
"We'd like a little more production, but we have the puck a lot," Kane said. "We've been creating a lot and we're getting some chances. Hopefully it's only a matter of time."
The 23-year old Toews thinks that it truly is just a matter of time. He's also taken notice of the growth in Kane's game, as he makes his own strides as a top player in the League. Toews wouldn't mind seeing both he and Kane climb as a pair, since they're already forever linked in the minds of Blackhawks fans anyway because of when and where they were drafted (Toews was the No.3 overall pick in the 2006 draft).
"We feel like it's a year that we want to take it up to another level," Toews said. "It's crazy that we're almost halfway through this season, but we both just want to keep getting better … especially if we're playing together."