Evander Kane is an excellent young hockey player. He always has been, from his time with the Vancouver Giants to his Matt Cooke knockout punch. He is also 20 years old, and playing in a market that is absolutely insane with happiness regarding the fact that they have an NHL team again. It’s understandable that Winnipeg Jets fans are excited about having a guy on their team that ESPN the Magazine called the “Next Big Thing” in the NHL. Kane’s talented, has great hands, and great vision on the ice.
He’s also 20.
Think about what you were doing when you were 20 years old. Not everyone was a responsible automaton, a la Jonathan Toews (or, looking back on it, myself). People goof when they’re that age and are under pressure in their regular lives: pressure to do well in college, or to find a job, or to impress members of the opposite sex. Kane’s pressure is to succeed in his career while everyone in the city stares at him. He’s in a fishbowl, as THN’s Rory Boylen put it. Stop tapping on the glass.
It’s a new environment for him. In Atlanta, the players were able to go out under a shield of anynomity — or when people did recognize them out on the town they never really said anything. In a market like Winnipeg, where not only is the population smaller and more concentrated but also nuts about hockey, they’re going to know who you are. That’s tough for a young guy. He wants to go out, he wants to do whatever it is that he wants to do, and in Atlanta he could. In Winnipeg? He’s going to have to adjust.
There’re lots of adjustments Kane (and the rest of the Jets) are going to have to make, and pressure off of the ice to be a model citizen is just one of them. He’s under extreme pressure to perform. For obvious reasons, he’s become the face of the franchise, at least in the press. Articles, analysis, and blog posts abound regarding his performance this season — the fact that he’s ready to set career highs for goals and points is a huge factor in the fixation. But just like letting him get adjusted or — God forbid — have a life outside of his career, people are going to have to back off.
Accountability is good. You should be asking why Kane has scored just one goal since December 29th. You should be asking how his shot totals from every game are more around the zero to one mark. But you should also be asking why he’s having to have his time on ice shortened, or why coach Claude Noel has had to put his butt on the bench for extended periods of time.
Could it be, perhaps, that the professional adjustment time for a 20 year old is just as long as the personal adjustment time? Could it ever possibly be that so much hyperbole has been attached to the young star — who leads the team in goals with 19 but who ranks just 40th in the NHL — that it’s putting undue pressure on him? People need to stop buying into things like that. The comments section of Gary Lawless’ blog post where he compares Kane to former Jets v. 1.0 greats –” He’s in line to be the next in the line of beloved Winnipeg hockey players, following behind Hull and Hawerchuck and Selanne” — is outstanding in that even tempered individuals are saying the same thing that I am here. Back off. Stop throwing him into the same league as three of the greatest players the NHL’s ever known, or at least stop doing it until he shows you otherwise.
Let him continue to grow and develop without adding any unnecessary stress. Stop trying to tie him in with the Jets of the past, so he can become a solid and long term parts of the Jets of the now. He’ll reward you with amazing skill, as long as you let him reach that point of maturation.