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Blackhawks come first to Patrick Kane

Hawks winger Patrick Kane looks for pass Buffalo zone first period. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated Buffalo Sabres 6-2 Wednesday January

Hawks winger Patrick Kane looks for a pass in the Buffalo zone in the first period. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Buffalo Sabres 6-2 Wednesday January 18, 2012 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 28, 2012 9:12AM

On paper, the 2011-12 season was Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane’s worst in his five-year career. Even his wide-eyed rookie campaign was better statistically.

Kane’s 66 points marked his lowest output yet. His 23 goals were just two more than his rookie-year total. It would seem that he took a step back after being a point-per-game player the last two seasons.

It’s deceiving, though. While he’s paid to score, assist and spring fans from their seats, what Kane truly did this season might be underrated.

Kane is more of a team player than many give him credit for, and the idea of trading him is foolish.

“As far as my season personally, you want to put up some more points and some more goals,” Kane said this week. “But I’m excited about the challenge next year.”

This season was a challenge for Kane.

It began with surgery to repair his wrist, which he grudgingly admitted hindered him at times. Then came the order from above to play center. Never mind that he had been great at right wing and hadn’t played center since he was a kid.

In the end, that meant going from left wing to right wing to center in the playoffs against the Phoenix Coyotes, one of the best defensive teams in the league.

Few players with Kane’s profile would do that and offer no complaints in public or behind closed doors. He went with it.

Certainly there were frustrations, which might have shown up on the ice at times, but when he was needed most, Kane assumed a leadership role and centered the first line well when Jonathan Toews was out with a concussion.

That shouldn’t be forgotten when you look at his stats, which were negatively affected by the Hawks’ awful power play. Kane had only 12 points with the man advantage after averaging 29 in his first four seasons.

Kane did well enough at center that general manager Stan Bowman seemingly scoffed at the notion that the team finally should address its second-line center hole.

Although Bowman will do his due diligence and see which centers are available this summer, he’s right in saying that there currently are no options out there who are better than Kane.

“The notion that he can’t play center and isn’t good at center have been dispelled,” Bowman said. “Not only did our team play well when he was in the middle, he played well.”

Coach Joel Quenneville made it sound as if he’d prefer to keep Kane on the right side, saying he hopes rookie Marcus Kruger continues to develop.

“Is [Kruger] qualified to put up the numbers a second-line center would produce at?” Quenneville asked.

That’s to be determined, but Kane is, so he’ll remain “an option,” Quenneville said. There are few 23-year-olds in the league like Kane, who has the trust of his organization to handle right wing on the first line or center on the top two lines.

“It doesn’t really matter to me,” Kane said. “When you look at it, this year when the team was successful, it was when I was at center. It seemed to be good for the team.

“Obviously, my best [individual] years were at right wing. This year was a little bit different because I never really played center before. It was the first time I was playing center. I had to try it out. Even when I wasn’t doing that well at center in November or December, the team was still winning.

“That’s the most important thing.”

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