BANFF, Alta. -- This is not rocket science, though you could describe it as tricky it its own way, hockey's version of getting the chemistry just right.
Welcome to the Winnipeg Jets' $64-million question for 2013-14 -- just how can we optimize Evander Kane?
The visual evidence on this matter has been all over the map in the pre-season. The Jets struggled (1-4-3 in eight games) and Kane appeared with all kinds of fellow forwards. But in what is the closest to a decision yet, the 22-year-old shooter landed on a line with rookie centre Mark Scheifele and new right-winger Devin Setoguchi on Sunday at the Fenlands Banff Recreation Centre, as many suspected he would.
Strange, then, that the vibe on Sunday was far from confident. It was almost as if everyone connected to this decision was walking around on eggshells.
Just give a listen.
Question to Kane, who scored 17 goals in the shortened season in 2013, and 30 goals in the full year before that: "This is real today; do you feel that this might be a more permanent spot for you?"
Kane: "A little bit. But not really to be honest with you. I've played with all different line combinations in the pre-season; nobody consistently. I'm with them today and who knows how we're going to start on the game. I don't really know what's going on in terms of the lines. All I can control is whoever I'm playing with, try to do my best and make things work.
"I don't know. It's interesting. We'll see what happens. We have a lot of options. I'm not the coach. He has to make those decisions and come to those conclusions."
Kane was asked if coach Claude Noel asks him about that.
"I mean, no, not really. It's up to him. Like I said, I'm not the coach and he makes the decisions and he has his own thoughts. I just go out there, put on my equipment and try to help the team win. Whoever I'm playing with, I'm more than willing to work with."
Do you tell him what you like or don't, Kane was asked.
"Yeah, it's weird. Sometimes you have a couple of games with a line and suddenly things switch and you don't know why. Not even an injury. Sometimes it just switches. There's nothing you can do about it. And sometimes when things are going poorly, they stay the same. You'd think maybe we could change some things up (then). Hopefully we can get off to a good start, whoever I'm playing with and kind of build from there."
Whoever I'm playing with? That sounds purposely generic, like Kane has maybe been burned a few times by hoping too hard and he now just wants to detach himself until there's more reason to get excited.
Noel took the questions on this Sunday and he, too, sounded less than all-in.
"Look at Evander, he's had shuffling right-wingers and had different things happen over the course of a couple of years," Noel said. "You'd like to get him more stability there if you can... I have given it a fair amount of thought and those things are going to have to play themselves out.
"One thing about Evander, he's managed to have excellent numbers with the fact he's struggled trying to find stability -- he hasn't struggled, we have struggled to get him stable, permanent players there. He has managed to play well and to score and do some really good things.
"That's a plus. For us, we're just trying to see if we can stabilize his situation a little bit, if we can create something there, if something can get done there just to help him out. Who's that going to be? Time will tell."
Time will tell? Talk about non-committal.
To start last season, Kane lined up with Olli Jokinen and Kyle Wellwood.
Now, with Scheifele in the middle today, you can at least see why he might be a little apprehensive -- it's a big assignment and he's an NHL rookie at 20.
"If I'm going to play with them, I'm going to work my hardest," Scheifele said after Sunday's practice, obviously taking nothing for granted. Still, remember that he just practised 90 minutes with them and said "if."
"Regardless of who I play with, I'm going to do that, but I think us three have a bit of chemistry and in practice we're able to find each other whenever we play together, and so if we're together, hopefully we'll be able to have a good game and be reliable, too," Scheifele said.
At least the rookie volunteered some confident thoughts, so maybe it really will be up to him to turn the tide on these choices, from uncertain to great call.
"They're both unbelievable shooters," Scheifele said. "And they're fast and they make good plays. They're smart players. I think we all match well. We all can kind of do it all. We all battle and we all shoot the puck and pass it. It's just a matter of working our hardest, continue to gel and get better each and every day."