When Evander Kane met his namesake, boxer Evander Holyfield, the former heavy weight champion sized up the then 18-year-old hockey player and offered this assessment: "I'm the 'Real Deal'. With all his talent, he's the 'Potential Deal'."
It has taken a couple of years, but Kane is finally starting to live up to that moniker. Now 20-years-old and starting his third season in the NHL, Kane has quickly become the best player on the Winnipeg Jets and one of the top scorers in the league. He has 14 goals so far this season, tying him for sixth spot in the NHL and just five short of his total goal production last year.
Kane may have played his best game Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. He scored two goals and should have been credited with a third when he appeared to bang in a loose puck in front of the net (the goal went to Jet defenceman Mark Stuart instead). Even more important for the Jets, Kane never hesitated to hit the larger Devils and he led a constant series of rushes that included a pair of breakaways. His value to the Jets was evident by the reaction of the crowd when he crashed into the boards after one breakaway. The normally boisterous fans at the MTS Centre quieted noticeably as Kane lay on the ice for a few minutes holding his knee. Then a loud cheer went out when he got up and skated to the bench.
"I felt good," Kane said after the game. "I feel stronger."
Gaining that strength has taken time. When the Atlanta Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets last spring Kane was touted as one of the new franchise's key players. After all he'd arrived in the NHL with great promise, winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in 2009 and enjoying a remarkable junior career that included a Memorial Cup championship in 2007. The Thrashers took Kane fourth overall in the 2009 entry draft, which led to more glowing headlines and the meeting with Holyfield who is from Atlanta. Kane's father, Perry, was an amateur boxer and hockey player and he named his only son after the legendary fighter because of Holyfield's tenacity in the ring. Perry Kane taught his son to play hockey with the same ferocity, drilling young Evander constantly on hockey fundamentals from a young age on rinks around Vancouver.
Kane stuck with the Thrashers his rookie year, scoring 14 goals and getting 26 points in 66 games. His second year was moderately better: 19 goals, 24 assists in 73 games. But this year was supposed to be break out season. It didn't start out that way.
Kane didn't get a point in the Jets' first five games, making all that pre-season talk of him scoring 30 goals this year look silly. Then a rumour surfaced that Kane wanted out of Winnipeg and that he didn't get along with coach Claude Noel. Kane shot down the suggestions and insisted he was happy with the Jets and Noel. But speculation mounted and critics piled on.
He finally got his first goal on Oct. 22 and by November Kane was turning aside doubts about his potential. He quickly started piling up points, scoring two goals a game four times and getting at least one point in eight out of the last ten games. More importantly for the Jets, Kane began using his size – he is listed at 6 feet 2 inches and 195 pounds – to break free and cause havoc for opponents.
"This is a really good example of what happens when you have confidence," Noel said after Saturday's game. "Look at the way he is playing now versus the way he was playing at the beginning of the year. He's really going through the roof."
Added linemate Bryan Little, whose own production has soared since being put on a line with Kane: "I think it's basically confidence and when our line is going, like we have been, it's pretty easy and the points come fast, especially the way Kane is playing and shooting the puck."
Kane has never really lacked confidence. "Every time I shoot the puck I expect to score a goal," he said earlier this month. After Saturday's game, Kane offered this assessment of himself: "I want to be one of the best players in the league, a dominant player in this league, and this is just the start of that."