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Patrick Kane at center brings smiles to Blackhawks

Blackhawk forward Patrick Kane brings puck up ice first period as Chicago Blackhawks host Detroit Red Wings Wednesday September 28

Blackhawk forward Patrick Kane brings the puck up the ice in the first period as the Chicago Blackhawks host the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday September 28, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 2, 2011 2:12PM

It’s hard not to notice all the mischievous-looking smirks that emerge on the faces of the Blackhawks when they are asked about Patrick Kane playing center.

Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa all had them as the “Kane at center” experiment took hold of the Hawks’ dressing room the past few days.

“It takes a commitment to defense and work ethic,” Toews said of what it takes to excel at center. “So those two things right there are No. 1. Some guys have it, some guys don’t.

“He can come ask me [for pointers] if he wants. It’s up to him. I’m just joking. I think he’ll do well. There are some little things here or there that you don’t have to worry about as a winger. But it’s nothing he can’t handle.”

The experiment took center stage Wednesday as Kane and right wing Marian Hossa each made their preseason debuts in a 4-3 win against the Detroit Red Wings before 20,078 at the United Center.

Kane scored on the power play while on the wing, but didn’t look out of place at center with Hossa and Andrew Brunette — at least not in the offensive zone. Kane’s line didn’t spend too much time in their own end against the Red Wings, which featured few regulars.

“It’s still the same game,” Kane said. “I’m still probably going to play the same way, maybe just fine-tune a couple things here and there. I think one of the things why they wanted to try me at center is because when I’m playing wing I’m pretty much coming low [in the offensive zone] for the puck all the time anyway and picking it up.

“It’s pretty much I play like a center when we have the puck. Maybe, that’s why they wanted to try it. It’s just a little different obviously in your end, faceoffs and things like that.”

Coach Joel Quenneville basically said the same thing this week. Kane’s always been good on the rush, often skating past defenders through the middle of the ice (which he did Wednesday). It’s his defense and his effectiveness on draws that merit attention.

Kane hooked winger Justin Abdelkader as he raced toward Corey Crawford in the first period and won 8 of 12 draws, including some in the defensive zone and against faceoff whiz and former Hawk Ryan Johnson.

The idea of putting Kane, one of the best playmakers in the NHL, and Hossa, a top scoring threat, together seems so natural, but it’s failed to click in the past. Putting Kane in the middle instead of the other wing — which didn’t work at all — is another attempt.

“It’s worked out with [Patrick Sharp] in the past when I play with him where he’s more of a shooter and a scorer and he plays that [center] position,” Kane said. “With Hossa, I’ve never really played with him, maybe a power play here or there, and sometimes after a penalty and shifts like that, but never really too much.

“I’ll be happy to play with him. I’ll try to feed him the puck and get him good scoring opportunities because you know he can bury it.”

Hence, the experiment.

“They worked well together,” Quenneville said. “Maybe a little too cute sometimes, but there’s a lot of plays amongst them that eventually they’ll be cashing in. We liked it.”

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