- Paul Grant
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Many were wondering heading into last season what was next for Patrick Kane. After all, he entered the league with a bang, showing mad skills from the get-go during his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in 2007-08. But after a remarkable 2009-10 that was capped by an 88-point regular season (interrupted by a silver medal for Team USA at the Vancouver Games) and a 28-point postseason in which the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, his production and stature started to slide. He became better known more for his off-ice shenanigans than his on-ice skills. Was he a distracted party boy working on his last chance at redemption before he turned 25?
Short-season mojo: The answer was facilitated by the lockout. Somehow, some way, Kane entered the shortened 2012-13 season on a mission, like he was out to prove his critics wrong. Or to keep his spot on the team. Or to just flat-out enjoy the ride back from the darkness of the lockout. Whatever the cause, it worked, as Kane had not only a great stats season -- 55 points in 48 games -- he also looked good doing it, scoring amazing goals, pulling nifty moves and being an essential part of the Blackhawks machine that rolled through the season and playoffs as one of the more dominant performances in recent memory, capped by his Conn Smythe win. And he did it all with a mullet, which is always endearing.
Why it will be tough to repeat: He won't be playing repeatedly (four games in April, including three in six nights!) against the slumping Predators, nor will he be able to regularly light up the Blue Jackets, who fled for the East. The winger with the trigger finger will no doubt be counted on to be a key member of Team USA during the Olympics, adding further wear and tear in a Cup-hangover season.
Verdict: Sure, he won't have the Jackets to kick around, but on the flip side, he won't have to go repeatedly against the Red Wings, who held him to three goals and two assists over 10 games (both regular season and playoffs) in 2013. Regardless, it takes a superstar player to maintain the kind of pace and enthusiasm Kane had last season. Those kind of expectations -- piled on top of what is expected of him and his defending-champion Blackhawks -- could be too much to ask for someone who seems to be still working out some things. Kane will have a great season for mere mortals, but only good by the standards of a budding superstar.
14dScott Burnside and Craig Custance