Through 49 games, Evander Kane’s 19 goals have already matched his career best and before long he’ll eclipse the 43 points he totalled last season. This despite the fact he’s missed time with a concussion and is currently dealing with a slump during which he has three points in 13 games.
His on-ice play is still heading in the right direction as he continues to, not so much learn, but understand the ropes of the pro game.
Moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta this past summer has also surely opened the Vancouver native’s eyes to just what it means to play in a fishbowl Canadian market. With no disrespect to the deep-south city, it’s been a whole new ballgame away from the rink for a guy who is still just 20 years old.
In Toronto last weekend, Mats Sundin’s No. 13 was honored and in his speech he spoke of how challenging it was to play in Toronto as a youngster.
"In all honesty, there is no tougher place - no better place, but no tougher place - for a young man in his 20s to be a professional hockey player than in Toronto. When you're at that age, you kind of want to protect yourself."
Winnipeg isn’t on the same scale as Toronto, but its circumstance is profoundly unique. The excitement and anticipation around the return of the Jets and the focus and fanfare towards their players has a completely different emotion than any other NHL team right now. Andrew Ladd is the captain, Ondrej Pavelec is the star goalie and Dustin Byfuglien is the biggest, most noticeable player on most nights, but Kane, drafted No. 4 overall in 2009, is the future star. To give you a sniff of what that means the Winnipeg Free Press today wrote: “He's in line to be the next in the line of beloved Winnipeg hockey players, following behind Hull and Hawerchuk and Selanne.”
Kane is quickly learning that with this territory, wanted or not, comes some nasty mudslinging. Kane has already been accused of skipping out on a restaurant tab and tweeting for cash, none of which has been proven as fact. He’s been called “immature” and “arrogant” by fans and media, though any (real) minor missteps can understandably be attributed to his age. And it’s not as though cockiness is a bad trait for a professional sports player to have, so long as he’s fan-friendly – which Kane appears to be.
Kane himself said he knew coming in he had to be careful with what he said and tweeted to the general public and that’s a lesson all should heed in the social media age. But his comment is a little discouraging: He shouldn’t have to feel as though he needs to shield and protect himself so much that it restricts his personality.
We can’t denounce the voice and character of big-time athletes just because they’re not always in lockstep with what we think they should be. Dion Phaneuf was once a colorful interview, but NHL life has beaten him down to the stone-faced, monotone gargoyle we witness today.
Kane is only 20 and has already been thrown under the bus by the source of these sharp rumors and by those who perpetuate them to paint a picture of the player. I don’t believe the majority of Jets fans are in on this because a) Kane doesn’t appear to have done anything wrong and b) he is an electrifying talent they should hope will be around for a while.
I know some will scoff at the notion that Kane deserves a reprieve because of his age, but that is the reality of the situation. If there’s something wrong with having a cocky 20-year-old talent, by all means, good luck winning the Cup with a team of impartial pushovers.
The vile, disgusting TMZ world is creeping more and more into hockey. Judging someone by unsubstantiated rumors has no business anywhere, including sport. This onslaught of negative coverage only serves to beat the flair out of the players we ask to see flair from.
Until Kane actually skips out on a tab or punches a cab driver in the back of the head, can we not just enjoy the budding of a goal-scoring talent and judge his hockey against his draft contemporaries, Matt Duchene and John Tavares?
Sport is meant to be an escape and an outlet for pure entertainment. Brash or not, Kane’s talent is good to have in the NHL and in Winnipeg. If we have our way, he will be around for another 20 years, evolving as a player, person and professional along the way. To stunt or discourage that through shameful and untruthful personal prodding is a crime to hockey fans everywhere.
Coming up with excuses for it is even worse.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His column appears regularly only on THN.com.
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