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Kane growing up in the NHL

Jets' rising star learning on, off the ice

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There's something different about Evander Kane these days that even he isn't quite ready to admit or share his thoughts on the subject with the rest of the world.

There have been some tweaks in Kane's outward appearance, a repackaging, if you will, of the Winnipeg Jets leading goal scorer and public lightning rod.

The cynic will be quick to say it's all image and not substantiative change. People within the Jets organization that I've known for over a decade with opinions and judgments I trust say differently. They say Kane is a good kid. A kid, mind you, but a good one.

"You mentioned in one of your articles that I wasn't mature and I didn't take too kindly to it," said Kane, standing in a hallway in the Jets dressing room complex Monday after practice. "I remember Don Hay talking to our team when we were in junior. He didn't want us going home and hanging around over Christmas with the wrong guys and getting in trouble and he told us that as hockey players we have to mature more quickly than other kids. 

"You experience things a lot quicker in this life. But at the same time does that mean you're done? Obviously not. I'm only 20 years old and there's lots of room for more maturity that can still come and has to come."

The Jets have no one else like Kane, a big, powerful player with a cannon for a shot and a nose for the net. He's a 40- or 50-goal scorer waiting to happen. He's also a superstar in the making with the potential to have all of Winnipeg at his feet. He's in line to be the next in the line of beloved Winnipeg hockey players, following behind Hull and Hawerchuck and Selanne.

Kane's ascendence upon Winnipeg has already had some high moments and, prior to a concussion suffered in December, he was on pace to score 40 goals. With 19 goals and 13 assists through 49 games, a career-high 25 goals is a more realistic target with 30 still a possibility.

There have also been some difficult moments as entirely unsupported off-ice rumours caught fire and began to follow Kane around. Rehashing them would do the player a disservice but let's be clear -- not one bit of off-ice gossip regarding Kane has been shown to be fact. Not one.

"Nobody likes things being said about them that aren't true. That's probably the most frustrating thing. You don't like when people are coming up with false rumours and false accusations. It's petty stuff. But you can't let it get to you where it affects your game. Realistically it's just a small number of people and there are far more positive fans and fans of the Winnipeg Jets," said Kane, before adding that positives came from his moment in the TMZ spotlight. "With all the stuff that was going on it was a good opportunity for (management) to prove they were supportive and strong people and they certainly did that. From (Jets governor) Mark Chipman and all the people in management. They showed that they're family and good people and that they have my best interests at heart."

It's one thing for management that has millions of dollars invested in an asset like Kane to try and be supportive, but it's another thing altogether for the dressing room to buy in. Players have radar and sniff out a phoney story or person in an instant.

"My teammates supported me and I was maybe a little surprised. Not because they don't like me, because they do, and I love my teammates," said Kane. "I wasn't going around mentioning it to everybody and complaining about it. But it was great to have that support in the locker-room and it puts it into perspective that they have your back and stand beside you."

I asked a Jets veteran on Monday if Kane was worth the trouble. Was he just young and finding his way or something different?

"Last year when you told Evander something about hockey he would sometimes get his back up," said the player. "Now he wants to learn and wants to get better and wants to listen. He's growing up in the NHL and that's a hard thing to do. But he's figuring it out and he's going to be a great player and a leader someday."

Kane has been called arrogant but, as always, there's some self-preservation in his outward shell.

"I wouldn't say I was cocky but as an 18 year old coming in, you have to be confident or you'll get run out of the league, run out of the room and walked all over," said Kane. "You have to have that confidence. It's something I've always had and maybe it rubs some people the wrong way.

"Last year and this year I've learned that at some points you have to step back and it's all a learning curve. This year I think there definitely has been a difference in myself and it's been pretty positive.

A big part of what makes a player different from the rest is talent. Compassion and generosity of spirit goes a long way as well. Kane seems to have all of that, even if at times he has trouble showing it.

"I think I'm a pretty good guy," he said. "I don't think I'm a bad person at all. Obviously, as you grow up you mature and have new experiences and that's what makes the person you become to be. I want to be part of the community. I've done stuff with kids since I was a 15-year-old playing junior hockey. It's a great thing to be able to do and as much as it makes their day it makes yours.

"It's great to be able to put smiles on young kids' faces or kids with disabilities or kids that don't get a chance to come to a Jets game. I really enjoy doing stuff like that."

Kane says he's learned lots about himself, his job and his surroundings over the last month.

"You have to be careful about what you say and what you put out there. I knew that coming in but it's a whole different stage here. Coming to Winnipeg you hear how popular hockey is but then to experience it first-hand its completely different. It's something I've learned and now that I know it's something I'm prepared for," he said. "I've paid too much attention to the media. I'm a guy that likes to be aware of what's being said, but you can't let it affect you. At the same time, I'm more than willing to step up to the plate and be held accountable for on-ice performance or, if I ever did anything, off-ice issues."

The last month certainly won't define Kane as a player and he understands the best way to put it behind him is with memorable action on the ice.

"This has just been a bump in the road for me, some adversity that I'm going to learn from. If it happens again I'm going to know what to do," said Kane. "Now I'm looking to cap off the final 25 games with some real strong hockey."

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2012 D1

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Updated on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 at 3:01 PM CST: fixes typo

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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