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Experiment on: Patrick Kane may be Blackhawks’ new centerpiece

Patrick Kane takes shot Blackhawks training camp United Center Saturday Sept. 17 2011 Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Patrick Kane takes a shot at Blackhawks training camp at the United Center Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 11, 2011 2:59PM



The mere sight of Patrick Kane at center ice lined up against Jonathan Toews and flanked by Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette looked odd.

But there was one of the best right wings in the NHL playing center Monday at practice. The experiment is on.

“I’m willing to try it out, I guess, see if it works or not,” said Kane, who practiced for the first time without a splint on his surgically repaired left wrist. “I’m going to try to do my best there and see what happens.”

The Blackhawks are hoping Kane, already established as a premier passer and playmaker, could become a bigger threat at center. Kane has talked often this preseason about taking his game to the next level. Perhaps this is a way to do that.

“He can see the left, and he can see the right,” Hossa said. “He can make the forehand, backhand passes. I think the middle is great for him.”

But does it feel strange?

“[Patrick Sharp] is right now missing, so Kane is playing in the middle,” Hossa said. “I think the coaches are going to make the right decision where Kane is going to be. But I think he’s going to be on the right anyway, but you never know.”

Coach Joel Quenneville insisted the move had little to do with Sharp, who just has started skating on his own after his Sept. 12 appendectomy. Quenneville also said Sharp should start the season at wing.

Kane said that general manager Stan Bowman approached him about center in the summer.

“He didn’t really tell me why,” said Kane, who has 303 points in 317 regular-season games. “He just said it was something they wanted to try.”

Other than faceoffs, there are many challenges facing Kane at center, mainly defensive responsibilities. But even Kane’s teammates say he has improved defensively.

“Anything you can put your mind to, especially defensively, you’ll be able to do it,” said Kane, who had a brief stint at center under Denis Savard three preseasons ago. “I feel pretty confident in my own end.”

Center also is a thin position, with Marcus Kruger not panning out and veteran Brett McLean on waivers. But Quenneville doesn’t think there is a significant adjustment from wing to center in the Hawks’ system, saying “we just counted the number of guys that could potentially play center, and I think we almost got it to 10.” Sharp, Michael Frolik, Jamal Mayers and Ben Smith were mentioned.

“We think that no matter who is in there, they can play center,” Quenneville said. “A lot of the time, the forwards have a lot of the same responsibilities as the centermen do in a lot of situations, so it’s not that big of a change in their game.”

Kane already leads breakouts up the middle often. It’s also possible he could play more if he excels.

“All of sudden, you line up Toews, Kane and [Dave] Bolland, one, two, three down the middle,” Quenneville said. “It could be a pretty good one, two, three lines.”

Right now, it’s just an experiment.

NOTES: Jeremy Morin (concussion) hasn’t been cleared for full contact. Daniel Carcillo (flu) and Rob Klinkhammer (undisclosed injury) didn’t practice. Kyle Beach, Jimmy Hayes, Peter LeBlanc, Brian Connelly and Joe Lavin were sent to Rockford.

◆ The Montreal Canadiens signed former Hawks defenseman Chris Campoli to a one-year, $1.75 million deal.



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