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Patrick Kane faced tougher competition in 2021, for better and worse

The Blackhawks’ leading point scorer remained just that, despite a more important role.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) looks to score against the Dallas Stars during the third period
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There’s nothing really new or exciting to say about Patrick Kane. Perhaps because it’s much more exciting to watch Kane on the ice as the Blackhawks’ leading scorer (when healthy) essentially since he arrived. Kane’s offense was a highlight of an otherwise drab 2021 season in Chicago, as he retained his crown as the Blackhawks’ leading point scorer.

Yet in multiple ways the 2021 version of Kane was a different breed. With Jonathan Toews out of the lineup for the entire season, Kane was moved from secondary competition he was easily able to beat to tougher assignments, sometimes with tougher centers to play with — Kane spent 100 minutes with David Kampf at 5-on-5 and just 80 with Kirby Dach.

While Kane had the benefit of Alex DeBrincat — and DeBrincat’s monumental step forward — for much of the season, Kane continued to play his defenseman-esque minutes (averaging 22:13 per game, up from 21:20 in 2019-20) while facing his stiffest competition perhaps ever.

That may be why Kane’s finishing ability took a dive in 2021, as his shooting percentage plummeted from 12 percent in 19-20 to 7.85 percent in 21, with his goals per 60 going from 1.33 to 0.72 — nearly being cut in half. Kane was too tired from playing competition Toews and whoever Toews was with usually dealt with while playing even more minutes.

Kane’s subpar effort in terms of possession stats — and Kane has never been a terrific shot metric player in the first place — can also likely be explained by this step up in competition. Kane had just a 37.43 high-danger chance percentage in 2021 and a 41.3 expected goal percentage, both well below his 2019-20 marks.

Kane’s defense is also nothing positive, but it never has been. That’s been a hallmark of Kane’s career — his offense has traditionally made up for his complete lack of defense, and Kane had 9.3 goals above replacement and -5.5 defensive goals above replacement in 2021. Look, there is some logic behind Jeremy Colliton’s decision to put Kampf with Kane, even if it’s not all solid and didn’t work out.

Kane actually stepped up his game in terms of playmaking in 2021, as his primary assists per 60 went from 1.37 to 1.59, likely a result again of playing with DeBrincat, Chicago’s leading goal scorer. Despite his reduction in goals, that rise in playmaking kept Kane from falling too far in terms of points per 60 (3.18 from 3.37).

2021 was a down year for Kane in terms of his importance on ice as well. Kane’s IPP - or individual points percentage, the percentage of goals with a certain player on ice that player had a hand in — fell from 84.85 to 77.65 percent and Kane was arguably not the most important power-play force for the Blackhawks this season (that honor goes to Dominik Kubalik).

Kane generated less pressure on net in 2021 than he usually does. He went from 3.21 high-danger chances per 60 to 1.93, 0.91 expected goals per 60 to 0.72 and 11.05 shots per 60 to 9.21. Again, that may just be the Blackhawks not having the puck with Kane on the ice at 5-on-5 or it may be Kane facing other top lines (or both).

Kane will likely bounce back while facing less dominant matchups in 2021-22, especially if Toews returns. Kane will likely also have more consistent linemates and a better center with a fully healthy Dach and there’s no reason to break up Kane and DeBrincat.

While he continues to pace the Blackhawks in points, 2021 was a season that showed Kane’s flaws as well. As he continues to age — Kane is now 32 — those flaws could become deeper and more noticeable. But when Kane puts up the points he does and played as much time as he did, those flaws were not the worst thing about the Blackhawks by a long shot.