The season is young and the results so far mixed, but one Winnipeg Jet who came out of the gate ready to run this year is Evander Kane.
It’s been noticed.
Kane has stepped up with a more physical all-round game and is now back with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler on the team’s No. 1 line.
“You look at the obvious things, like produce offensively, that’s my job and that’s what I’m counted on to do,” says Kane, who has three goals and two assists in six games for the Jets.
“But I try to be a two-way player in terms of little things like blocking shots, taking hits, looking good in my own zone and creating offensive opportunities for myself and my linemates. Whatever I can do to help the team.”
Kane is a plus-3 so far this season, with a team-leading 30 shots on goal before Tuesday night’s home game against Montreal.
That he shoots a lot isn’t news, but he has been visibly more physical and defensively minded and says he wants to embrace more of a leadership role.
“I think Evander can bring the level of leadership up with his game,” says coach Claude Noel.
“But all players are like that. There’s other players as well that would like to take a more leadership role but it starts with your game. If you bring consistency to your A-game then you can now have a voice in the room. You can have a voice just by the way you play.”
Both the Jets and the Canadiens entered Tuesday’s game looking for more consistency.
But unlike the Jets, who haven’t seen the post-season since 2007 when they were still the Atlanta Thrashers, the Canadiens have made the playoffs five out of the last six seasons. They’ve also been knocked out in the first round in three of those five seasons.
“I haven’t made the playoffs in my career and that’s frustrating,” says Kane, who played two seasons in Atlanta before the move to Winnipeg.
The fourth pick overall in the 2009 entry draft, Kane has speed and stick-handling ability. But there have been times when his team game and desire to win have been questioned.
He’s still just 22 but it’s hard to find fault with his effort this season.
His average time on ice per game is just .02 seconds less than Bryan Little, who leads all Winnipeg forwards at 20:09. Ladd is next at 18:26.
Being bounced around as coaches try to find a good fit for him is nothing new for Kane’s career. He started the season anchoring a second scoring line with Mark Scheifele and Devin Setoguchi.
“I’ve been doing line juggling for 264 games,” Kane said with a chuckle Tuesday.
Many nights the Kane line generated the bulk of the pressure and scoring opportunities for the Jets. Two games ago Noel started juggling again to try and spread some of that energy around.
“I think his teammates know what he can bring to the table and when he does that we do get energized because it makes everybody else feel like we’re moving,” says Noel.
“(He’s) an exciting player to watch when he plays like that and then you find that your other players are following suit.”
Other things also may be coming together for the Jets, who had the worst power play in the league last season and were only slightly better at penalty killing.
Their power play ranked 20th and their penalty kill 16th as of Tuesday and they managed at least one power-play goal in each of their first five games.
“If you look at our special teams the last couple of games, we’ve worked a lot harder to make sure we’re getting those lanes or getting shots to the net,” says defenceman Zach Bogosian.
“We don’t really look at stats too much but you can feel it when you’re out there that it’s starting to come together.”
The Jets didn’t score a power-play goal in their last 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils but they did kill five penalties, including a five-on-three.
“You know you’re doing your job when things are going well. that’s satisfying in itself when you get those lanes and block those shots that prevents a goal or a scoring chance,” said Bogosian.
He says more communication on the ice is working.