When Patrick Kane stands next to Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard, they line up at the same 5-foot-9 height. If Kane comes close to matching Savard’s exploits on the ice -- an undersized player who uses his speed and smarts to beat the bigger guys -- the Blackhawks will have drafted, with the first pick in this year’s NHL draft, the guy they can build a team around.
When Patrick Kane stands next to Blackhawks head coach Denis Savard, they line up at the same 5-foot-9 height.
He’s about the same weight Savard was as a rookie, about 165 pounds.
If Kane comes close to matching Savard’s exploits on the ice -- an undersized player who uses his speed and smarts to beat the bigger guys -- the Blackhawks will have drafted, with the first pick in this year’s NHL draft, the guy they can build a team around.
“His heart’s at the right place,” Savard said Monday at the United Center, dismissing questions about Kane’s size. “He’s strong on his skates. He has great ability, quick hands around the net, and we haven’t had a lot of that lately. He wouldn’t be the first pick in the draft if he didn’t have that.
“He’s going to be a great player for this franchise for a long time.”
Kane, brought to Chicago for a day of introductions to staff and reporters, and a ceremonial appearance at a Cubs game, didn’t blow his own horn.
“I definitely want to make the team,” Kane said. “I don’t know how I’ll do against NHL players. I’ve never played against them. We’ll see when the exhibition season rolls around.”
Savard and general manager Dale Tallon think he’ll do just fine.
“I told him what I was told when I came here,” Savard said. “Just enjoy yourself. Play hockey. Don’t try to be something else.”
“He has great eyes, can see things develop before others can,” said Tallon, who said he tabbed Kane as the best player in the draft after a junior tournament in January. “He makes plays you can’t believe. You say, ‘How did he do that?’ ”
Since that tournament, Kane’s stock rose from a projected mid-first round pick all the way to the top. Which was fine with him.
“Obviously there’s some added pressure, but I think I thrive under pressure,” Kane said. “As for size, size has been an issue my whole life. It was when I went to the checking level in hockey, then to the Ontario League, and now the NHL.”
Last season, he slipped checks well enough to lead Canadian junior hockey in scoring, with 62 goals, 83 assists and 145 points for the London Knights.
“Not too different from my last year in junior,” Savard recalled.
Savard, picked third by the Hawks in 1980, made an instant impact, and set a team scoring record in his second campaign, leading the team to the Stanley Cup semifinals.
The Hawks have made the playoffs once since the spring of 1997.
“I’m looking forward to our Cup runs in the future,” Kane said.
Unlike the era before the current collective bargaining agreement, the Hawks and Kane won’t have any problem coming to a deal. The salary structure for rookies is spelled out in the CBA, and Kane will get a three-year contract for the maximum. Curiously, he doesn’t have an agent.
“They bypassed me before because of my size,” Kane said.
That alone may make owner Bill Wirtz want to not only sign him but adopt him.
Meanwhile, don’t expect Tallon to participate in bidding wars come Sunday, when the NHL’s free-agent market opens.
He’s tried that before, without great success.
Instead, Tallon will probably wait until the first wave of signings are over, watch other teams struggle with the salary cap and see if there’s a center available who the Hawks could use.
That plan paid off last summer, when Ottawa held a fire sale and the Hawks plucked Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski from the Senators.
Tallon foresees the most prized free agents getting multiyear deals of $7 million and up, reminiscent of the old NHL era, and doesn’t want to play that game.
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