By Ben Chopping
Over his 5 years as an NHL skater, few players have caused as much controversy as Evander Kane. The Canadian left winger has endured team spats, fan fall-outs and too many injuries to count, but he’s only 24 years old and this season, he has a great opportunity to become the star player that he was projected to be way back in ’09.
Born in Vancouver, Kane played his youth hockey with the Vancouver Giants, under Head Coach Don Hay. When the 2009 draft came around, Evander Kane was ranked 3rd overall but was taken at 4th by the Atlanta thrashers.
Blair McDonald, of the NHL Central scouting, spoke of Kane’s strength and desire to attack:
“When he’s got the puck he’s going to the net and defying people to stop him.”
Giants coach Don Hay also expressed Kane’s extraordinary desire to battle for the win:
“He always wants to make a difference on the ice… A lot of players that age don’t want to be on the ice or in that situation when the game is on the line.”
Once he became a Thrasher, Evander showed his advances in development with 26 points in his first season and then 43 in his second. But, the start of 2011 saw him move from his big city living in Atlanta to the more enclosed Winnipeg, when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to become the Winnipeg Jets.
His first season as a Jet saw him put up his career best points total (57) and plus minus (+11). He was also only penalised for 53 penalty minutes, which is his career low. Blake Wheeler was the only Jet to seal more points than Kane in that 2011/12 season.
It then seems that he almost became arrogant coming off of the back of his great 57 point season. 2012/13 saw the NHL Lockout take place, forcing Kane to find somewhere new to play his hockey for a large chunk of the season.
He decided to become the first ever Canadian NHL player to move to the Russian KHL. After 12 games, and 1 point, with Dinamo Minsk, they mutually cancelled his contract.
Upon his NHL return he managed to acquire 80 penalty minutes in just 48 games (living up to the man he was named after, Evander Holyfield) but, he also managed to secure 33 points.
As it was somewhat of an enigma season, due to the lockout, his foul-happy play was overlooked and his performance in the previous season was used as reasoning to grant him a new 6 year, $31.5 million deal.
He never did regain his 11/12 form, only securing 41 points in 2013/14 and 22 in last years campaign but, that was cut short by his shoulder surgery.
What happened to Evander at the end of the 11/12 season to cause such a decline? There was of course the regular injury problems which resulted in him eventually getting shoulder surgery in February this year but the big issues came from his public relations issues.
After being traded to Buffalo, Evander Kane admitted that he didn’t enjoy the pressure of being in a small die-hard hockey community:
“Sometimes things just don’t work. Winnipeg is a very small town, but it’s a big hockey market.”
“It’s a little tougher than a Vancouver or a Toronto, where you can maybe get away a little bit. It’s a fishbowl.”
“Being a Winnipeg Jet was something that everybody knew who you were. They always wanted to talk to you, which is great, and that was definitely one of the things you enjoy. But negative things can take a toll a little bit.”
Kane had many run-ins with the fans. One such time was when a group of them held up a sign asking for him to stop leaving restaurants without paying.
Another, where he offended a huge amount of the hockey community, was when he posted the notorious ‘Money Phone’ picture on Twitter. It was deemed to be very offensive at the time as thousands of people had lost their jobs at the time due to the NHL Lockout.
He was also accused of assault, which was eventually dropped due to “insufficient evidence”, and a homophobic tweet which he later apologised for.
His relationship with his team mates at Winnipeg was never very strong; whether it was down to Kane’s dislike of his new home or that he’s just a difficult character, he had many reported issues with staff and fellow players.
February this year saw the end of the winger’s 14/15 campaign and his time as a Jet. It was heavily reported that, during a workout session, Kane’s team mate Dustin Byfuglien put his clothes in the shower to send a message to the virulent Canadian.
Just two days after the incident with Byfuglien, Kane was put on the Injury Reserve, and a day later he underwent surgery. 5 days after his shoulder surgery, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, along with Zach Bogosian and the rights to Jason Kasdorf. In return, Winnipeg received a first round pick, two prospects (Lemieux and Armia), big defenseman Tyler Myers and, Drew Stafford.
Evander Kane has since claimed that “maybe it was overdue”, but now he has a chance to kick start his career that has so much potential.
His new club, the Buffalo Sabres, have undergone a massive overhaul of personnel since their very poor campaign last year, where they only claimed 54 points.
Buffalo have brought in 13 new players, many of which will be in the first team next season. They acquired talented keeper Robin Lehner from Ottawa as a stable replacement for the two great keepers that they traded away last season (Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth) or their star man Ryan Miller, who was allowed to depart at the end of the season before last.
Only 7 players left the Sabres roster, some of which were highly rated youngsters by the likes of Zadorov and Grigorenko. But, the quickest way to improve the team is to trade away the currently weaker players, even though the trade may come back to haunt them one day.
Evander Kane will be a core member of the new look Sabres side, but he is familiar with at least one of their star players. He and Tyler Ennis played in the 2009 World Junior Hockey Championship together.
The left winger will be in a similar position to most of the players in the roster; they’re at a new club, where the only way is up. They’ll need time to gel, but there’s much more quality in their ranks this season so should surpass their 54 points of last year.
Despite only being 24, Kane will be considered as one of the more senior players in the side. The side is predicted to be packed with talented prospects like: Reinhart, Girgensons, Larsson and, Ristolainen.
Often having his maturity challenged, Kane will inherit a more grown-up role in the team which will help him stay focused and work on his game.
It could also transpire into more penalty minutes with him standing up for his younger and less physical team mates, as we all know, he loves to put a good hit on, and he’s not afraid of the penalty box.
Another huge boost for Kane is that Buffalo hired a new head coach. Ted Nolan is a good coach but wasn’t quite ready to take on a struggling team in the National League. Their new boss, Dan Bylsma is much better suited to the NHL
In Bylsma’s first 6 years as an NHL head coach, he took the Penguins to the playoffs in all 6 seasons and won the Stanley Cup with them in his first year in charge. Now, he’s not going to be able to do this with Buffalo, but he does have the managerial skills to take them up from the bottom of the table. They’ll definitely exceed the 54 point mark set by last season’s campaign.
After Evander’s successful surgery, to repair a torn labrum, he claims that he is fit and ready for action:
“The surgery was a little bit more complicated in terms of what it was. There was a hole actually in my shoulder as well. But everything’s fixed.”
“I’m not concerned. It’s not going to change my game. I’m not going to second-guess going into a corner, taking a hit.”
He’s ready to have a big season, it’s long overdue but he’s fit, and hungry for success. Kane’s new team responsibilities, new team and new city, will all bolster him back to the great player that he was developing into.
Evander Kane, and Buffalo, will most likely have a slow start but, once they’ve found a bit of rhythm good results will come their way; and Mr. Money Phone could easily secure a 50 point season, if he can stay injury free.
The Buffalo Sabres commence the new campaign with three home games. The first sees them host the Ottawa Senators on 8th October. Kane will travel to Winnipeg as a Sabre on the 10th of January.
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