At 20 years of age, Kane is already entering his third season in the NHL. While he may not have broken into the league at such a young age on a stronger club, it still speaks to the supreme talent and physical maturity that Kane displayed as an 18 year old. His calling cards are simple yet classic: big and fast, with sweet hands and a hard shot. He can dangle, he can take the puck hard to the net, and he plays with an edge. Evander Kane has game breaking talent; he is the forward around whom our offence should be built.
In just his second (and final) year of junior hockey, Kane scored 48 goals and 96 points in just 61 games, finishing as a WHL First Team All-Star. He played for Canada at the World Junior Championships at age *17 – a rare feat considering the tournament is made up primarily of 19 year olds. On the strength of this fantastic year, he was chosen 4th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft – immediately after highly touted prospects John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene. Kane’s junior hockey coach, Don Hay, wasn’t the least bit surprised to see him drafted that early. Hay, who also coached Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan when they were in junior hockey, said that Kane was actually a better player at that age than either Iginla or Doan. While he made no guarantees of Kane having similar NHL success, it says a lot about just how talented a player Kane is.
*The only 17 year olds to play for Canada at the WJC in the last decade are Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Rick Nash, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Sam Gagner, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, and Ryan Ellis – most of whom are stars in the NHL today.
Kane made his NHL debut in the fall of 2009. Like most rookies, he didn’t receive a lot of ice time, averaging less than 14 minutes per game, only 20 seconds of which came on the powerplay. He also sustained a foot injury in March of 2010 and missed 15 games. Despite all this, he managed to score 14 goals in just 66 games. After the NHL season finished, he was invited to play for Canada at the World Hockey along with elite players like Corey Perry and Steven Stamkos, and other young stars like John Tavares and Matt Duchene. In that star-studded line-up, he finished tied for 6th in scoring.
In just his second NHL season, Kane became an important offensive contributor. He scored 16 goals and 17 assists in his first 48 games, helping to put the Thrashers in playoff contention heading into February. However, as his team’s play declined, Kane’s production tailed off, scoring only 3 goals in his last 25 games. Nonetheless, it was a successful sophomore season, as he improved in almost every statistical category. His ice time increased to nearly 18 minutes per game; he led all Thrashers forwards in shots with 234, up from 127 the previous year; and he scored 19 goals and 43 points – good for 3rd among forwards. He was again invited to play for Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championships; one of only a handful of Canadians to do so twice as a teenager.
Based on his skill set, pedigree, and production thus far, Kane looks more than capable of being a first-line NHL winger. However, it’s important to temper expectations of a player that’s still so young, particularly when many of the key players around him are also years from their prime. While Kane may be the most talented forward on the team, it’s asking a lot of a 20 year old player to lead a team offensively at such a young age. It reminds me of a quote from Guy Carboneau a few years ago when he was still coaching the Habs. A reporter asked Carboneau if he thought rookie centre Mikhail Grabovski could help elevate the play of enigmatic Russian winger Alex Kovalev. Carboneau looked at the reporter in a dismissive fashion and said “it’s not Grabovski’s responsibility to improve Kovalev’s play. Alex Kovalev is an NHL veteran – that’s his job.” Kane has the skill to score 30, or even 40 goals, but that day is probably a few years down the road. For the time being, he should be looked upon as a great second line option.
2011-2012 stats prediction: 75GP 25G 27A 52P
Draft: 4th overall in 2009