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Patrick Kane emerging as MVP candidate in best season yet

Patrick Kane is pace score 45 goals this seaswhich would shatter his previous career high 30. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

Patrick Kane is on pace to score 45 goals this season, which would shatter his previous career high of 30. | Nam Y. Huh/AP

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Updated: January 23, 2014 6:50AM

At some point, you just stop
being surprised by the ridiculous — the roofed backhand through a seemingly nonexistent opening, the no-look pass, the spin-o-rama, the fancy stickwork. This is just Patrick Kane doing Patrick Kane things, as he always has done.

But the new Kane, the 25-year-old Kane, the bigger and stronger Kane, the MVP candidate Kane, is different. He’s more than just highlight-reel passes, viral stickhandling videos and occasionally impossible goals. He’s a goal-scorer now, pure and simple.

That means fancy goals and ugly goals, goals off the rush and goals off hard work. Kane never has scored more than 30 goals in the NHL and scored 23 in his last full-length season. He has scored 21 through 38 games this season, on pace for a career-high-shattering 45.

‘‘I always feel like I’ve been a goal-scorer my whole hockey career,’’ Kane said. ‘‘For whatever reason, when I came into the league as a rookie and maybe a few years after that, I was more of a playmaker. . . . But as time goes on, you learn to try to find new ways to score goals.’’

Kane frequently talks about how much he has learned in his six-plus seasons in the NHL. He has become a better shooter by watching Patrick Sharp, a better backchecker by watching Marian Hossa, a better puck-protector by watching Jonathan Toews.

And now he’s putting it all
together in his finest season yet. He has at least one point in 23 of his last 24 games, including 11 in a row, with 14 goals and 23 assists during that span. With 48 points in 38 games, he’s six points behind Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby in the scoring race. And he’s not doing it on a line with players such as Sharp, Toews and Hossa, but on one with Kris Versteeg and Michal Handzus (and rookie Brandon Pirri before that).

Beyond that, Kane has turned a minus-9 rating into a plus-8 in just seven weeks.

‘‘He’s been good,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s a confident kid, but his patience level with the puck and his play recognition is as high as we’ve see it.’’

Kane, who always has had a knack for avoiding contact without sacrificing positioning or the puck, said the biggest step he has made as a goal-scorer is being willing to get to the middle of the ice and score in traffic, to take hits, to create ugly goals. Also, as a younger player, he preferred to shoot high. Now he goes low more often, so he has a better chance of generating a rebound for a teammate when he doesn’t score.

‘‘The biggest thing is you try to get to the net and either poke in loose things or be patient around the net and make some plays there,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re not going to score on a goalie from 40 feet away; it’s just not going to happen at this level.’’

Versteeg last played with Kane in 2010 before rejoining the Hawks this season, and he’s amazed at how far Kane has come. He said Kane is significantly faster on his skates than he was and noticeably stronger, which allows him that extra split-second to get a shot off in traffic.

‘‘I think he’s a bigger goal-scorer because his physical maturity has come a long way,’’ Versteeg said. ‘‘He’s turning into a man; he’s not a little boy anymore. He definitely has always been the best player I’ve ever seen in my life on edges and the way he can get away from guys and get away from checks and create room for himself. Now, when you get older and stronger, that’s just going to create more for him.’’

More goals, more assists, more respect and — if he keeps up this ridiculous pace — more Hart Trophy talk.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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