The NHL

December 24, 2007

Double Feature
One of Chicago's two rookies seems sure to win the Calder Trophy—but which will be the better player in the long run?

LIKE PRIME numbers, one nation under God, and Lou Dobbs and immigration, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the magnificent Blackhawks rookies, are indivisible. They are linemates on the ice, roommates on the road. They don't finish each other's sentences yet, but they do complete other people's: No one in hockey can say one without the other. Kane and Toews (pronounced TAYVZ). Or Toews and Kane. You have to go back a quarter century, to the Islanders' Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, to find teammates so inextricably linked.

There is, however, only one Calder Trophy.

Barring an injury or a freakish tie, Kane or Toews—not both—will be named rookie of the year. Kane, the 19-year-old right wing who went No. 1 in last June's draft, is the shifty skater who's as patient with the puck as anyone in the NHL. Toews, also 19 and chosen third overall in 2006, is the relentless two-way center, a presence so imposing that the Blackhawks named him an alternate captain last week.

Chicago teased league observers in 2001--02 with youngsters Mark Bell and Kyle Calder, forwards who were supposed to signal a Blackhawks renaissance but were gone before last season. This time, says one pro scout, "these kids are the real deal." Toews had 12 goals and 13 assists through Sunday, while Kane had eight goals and a team-leading 31 points. Choosing between these contrasting yet complementary players is like choosing between Rocky Road and cherry vanilla ice cream: There is no wrong answer.

"They're both very mature with their games," Chicago coach Denis Savard says. "They have the green light to create. I was a skill player, and if I made the right decision eight out of 10 times, it was O.K. I've told them that if they do that, I won't even notice the other two."

Kane draws lavish praise for his skills, most notably the on-ice vision that one scout, after pausing to gulp, compared with Wayne Gretzky's, and his ability to keep the puck and make plays instead of throwing it away under pressure. "He's so confident with the puck," Toews says. "I'll be open, but he'll look me off, wait, then find somebody going backdoor for a tap-in."

But when SI asked scouts, coaches and general managers who will have the better NHL career, the consensus was overwhelming: Toews. "The other guy will score more, but Toews will do more," one Western Conference G.M. said. "He's bigger"—Toews is 6'2", 203 pounds; Kane is 5'10", 163—"and you'll have some hard, physical [playoff] series. Toews might hold up better in the grind."

Added a scout, "Kane will get you glitzy goals, but Toews is already so complete as a player and so good as a leader. Kane might win you a scoring title. But Toews will win you a Stanley Cup."

Chicago last had a scoring champion in 1967--68 (Stan Mikita) and is working on an NHL-worst drought of 45 seasons without the Cup. In fact, the Blackhawks haven't even won a playoff series in 11 years, a streak that Toews and Kane just might be able to end—together.

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PHOTODAVE REGINEK/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (KANE AND TOEWS)GLITZ AND GRIT Kane (88) has skills that scouts love; Toews has more of an edge.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)