Kane's evolution leading to production

Few people watch Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane's game as closely as Darryl Belfry does.

It’s what Kane pays Belfry to do. In the offseason, Kane works with Belfry, a skills analyst and development coach at Pro Playmakers, on the ice to improve his game. During the season, Belfry monitors Kane’s game through video and touches base with him a handful times a week with feedback.

“I would say I talk to him three or four times a week just through text message where we talk about different things -- what I did well, what he thinks I could do better, different things like that,” Kane said recently. “It’s good to talk to him and hear some feedback. We obviously have great coaches here that help you with that stuff too, but it’s sometimes nice to hear from a familiar face that has known you since you were 8-9 years old.”

Belfry breaks down Kane’s every movement and analyzes what he’s doing right and wrong and explains how he can improve his game through illustrations, videos and words. As of late, Kane has been making Belfry’s job easy. The feedback has tended to be more positive than anything with Kane ranking second in the league with 53 points.

Belfry believes he knows exactly why Kane has turned into one of the league’s most consistent offensive players.

“The difference with Patrick recently is he is dictating the game,” Belfry said in a recent phone interview. “As recently as earlier in the season, he was still forcing defenders into a decision and reacting based on their decision rather than forcing the defender into the decision he wants them to make and his automated responses are on point. This is what allows him to play at a different speed.”

Like becoming a master in anything, Kane needed time and experience in the NHL to develop those skills. Kane is now nearing 500 NHL regular-season games and has built up the required experience.

“It takes 300-400 games in the NHL to really get a sense of what you can do and you can’t do and then you have to evolve as a player,” Belfry said. “It is a process. You have to go through all these stages on how to generate offense. When you first come into the league, you have 2-3 ways to create offense coming from juniors. That’s your starting point, and you then have to evolve and evolve.”

Kane’s evolution has now taken him to what Belfry calls “the four-level progression.” The first progression is managing space and saving ice to accelerate into. The second is changing speeds into that ice and encouraging defenders to chase him. The third is to force the defensemen to make a decision as they’re chasing him. Finally, Kane is making movements to encourage the defensemen to make the decision he wants and automate the response.

“All this leads to a high volume of chances,” Belfry said. “It allows you to essentially create offensive chances at will. That is where Patrick is at.”

Kane’s production this season has been at a different level than it's ever been in his career. He’s tallied points in 34 of 42 games this season and 25 of his last 28 games. He came into the season with his longest points streak being 11 games, and he’s now had points streaks of 12 and 14 games. He’s accumulated 42 points over the course of November and December.

What has also stood out for Belfry is Kane has picked up a bulk of his points by playing with a variety of players on the second line and especially without Jonathan Toews. Kane and Toews were linemates early in the season, but they were separated in October.

“I think to generate offense away from Toews has been helpful for his confidence,” Belfry said. “I think it’s part of your evolution to know you can generate offense without the optimal conditions.”

As consistent and productive as Kane has been, Belfry believes Kane is capable of evolving even more.

“The highest level is using the dual threat to maximize the space available for him to either shoot or the space available to the player he is passing to,” Belfry said. “As good as he’s playing this half, I don’t think we’ve seen his best half. I think it contributes to his humble attitude. He still knows he has a long way to go. He approaches it as there’s no ceiling on his ability.

“I’m never surprised by anything he does, but this is something I’m happy to see him doing. I think he’s on such a great pace to do even more.”