There was a time when many wanted the Chicago Blackhawks to take the Tyler Seguin route with Patrick Kane. With multiple instances of public drunkenness and things related to it, some wondered if he could mentally handle life in the big time. In hindsight, it seems even more absurd to think about now than it did at the time. Kane has not only put those past issues behind them, he's taken his game to new heights and is turning in a career year with the Hawks.
Kane has obviously always had tremendous upside and a level of skill that even the most adamant of Blackhawk haters could recognize. But to watch his game develop and transform throughout his career has been a real treat. This 2014-15 season might just be the best we've ever seen him, for a variety of different reasons. The results, as far as they relate to his season statistics, help to illustrate that very statement.
On the season, Patrick Kane has already posted 56 points in 50 games. He leads the team by 14 points, is tied for second in the league in points overall (two behind Jakub Voracek), and trails Alex Ovechkin by four for the league lead in goals, with 25 of those points coming in finding the back of the net. This has him on pace to obliterate his career high in goals (a surprisingly low 30) and perhaps eclipse his career high for points in a season, which was 88 set back in the 2009-10 season.
The scary thing, at least from the perspective of the rest of the National Hockey League, is that those numbers could be quite a bit higher. He got off to a bit of a slow start, with just three goals and seven points overall in the season's first month. It wasn't really until the tail end of November, when he recorded goals in four consecutive games, that this torrid pace really began. Even with that slow start, he's still rolling at 1.12 points per game, and 0.50 goals per game.
January didn't represent the greatest month for the Blackhawks overall, as they were plagued by some inconsistencies, particularly in their own end. Yet, here's Patrick Kane dominating the month and arriving at the forefront of the Hart Trophy discussion. He finished the month with 19 points, including 10 goals. His last four games of the month featured eight of those points.
The thing that so many tend to marvel at with Patrick Kane is the simplicity in which he operates. Rather, it isn't necessarily easy what he's doing, he's just making it look that easy. Not only is he a threat to find the back of the net on every single shift he takes, but his premium playmaking ability makes him as large a threat as exists in the NHL today. His vision and creativity with the puck is really unrivaled in today's game. He's just as big a threat to find the back of the net as he is to find a teammate with an impossible pass, leading to a goal.
As Kane's career has progressed, there has been a clear evolution in his game. His confidence with the puck has increased, as has his willingness to take the puck to the net (not unlike the progression we're seeing with Teuvo Teravainen). We're seeing more of that this year, perhaps more than any other year to date. Of course, it also helps that Kane is playing with a competent center for the first time in quite some time, as Brad Richards has provided a breathe of fresh air, especially after playing in hockey purgatory (maybe even hockey hell) next to Michal Handzus last season.
Each and every time Patrick Kane steps out on the ice, he's the most dangerous player out there. He's the player that everyone in the building is watching. This has often been the case, but it is even more true this season. He's displayed the hands with incredible backhand shots into the very top corner of the net or leaving the opposing goaltender's pads all over the ice. The playmaking ability is at as high a level as it has ever been, whether it's a brilliant drop pass to his teammate's stick or finding someone with a beauty of a cross-ice dish.
Could Patrick Kane do what no other American has done and take home the Hart Trophy at season's end? Given his current pace, and the general stature of the Blackhawks as a league power, you'd have to figure the odds are at least in his favor to be in the mix as a finalist. Any ranting and raving about the skill level and play of Patrick Kane this year is absolutely justified. Whether you want to attribute it to experience, maturity, or what have you, Patrick Kane is as good as he has ever been.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.