CHICAGO — Patrick Kane was skating on thin ice. Drafted No. 1 overall in 2007 by Chicago at the impressionable age of 18, the offensive wunderkind was in danger of throwing his promising career away.
His off-ice behavior had reached such troubling levels that it would have caused even Rob Gronkowski, a bon vivant and fellow native son of Buffalo, to balk at the consumption of alcohol. Worse, unflattering photos of Kane’s benders and boorish behavior in bars began surfacing on the Internet and social media.
“I think he’s always been a little bit misunderstood in some ways,’’ said teammate Duncan Keith. “Every guy likes to go out and have fun, especially when you’re a young guy. He’s no different. Sometimes it just kind of got caught on camera, pictures and things like that. Maybe one incident sticks out in people’s heads.’’
That came last May, when Kane retreated for a weekend visit to the University of Wisconsin after the Phoenix Coyotes dispatched the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs.
Kane was captured on cellphone cameras in various states of drunken stupor, pawing at young coeds after crashing keg parties at fraternity and sorority houses. He reportedly was tossed out of one frat party after allegedly choking a sorority girl.
That was not the kind of image the Blackhawks had envisioned for their fresh face of the franchise. Although Kane had helped deliver Chicago the Stanley Cup in 2010, potting the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 6 at Philadelphia, he was no closer to being immortalized outside the United Center alongside statues of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.
“In 2010, you’re kind of so excited to get there, and I think at that time our team was too young and stupid to even know what was really going on,’’ said Kane, 24, who led Chicago with 55 points (23 goals, 32 assists) this season. “You just kind of let it fly by without really soaking it in.’’
On Tuesday, as NHL media day swirled around him, Kane allowed himself the time and space to soak up the atmosphere.
“I think a lot of us that were here in 2010, we consider we’re better players now,’’ Kane said. “I myself feel that I’m a well-rounded player. I got a lot better defensively and without the puck as time has gone on.
“I feel like I’m more focused about hockey now. Like I said, I’m going to soak it all in, but at the same time take advantage of the opportunity.’’
Kane is tied for the team lead in points this postseason (6-8—14). His hat trick in Game 5 against the defending champion Kings in the Western finals — with his double-overtime winner sending the Blackhawks into the Cup Final — likely helped the rehabilitation of his image.
“It was an exciting game, for sure,’’ Kane said. “I think I had played well the game before and I had a little confidence from that and just kind of wanted to play the same way. It ended up working out in Game 5 that I scored as many goals as I did.’’
Prior to scoring the tying goal in Game 4, Kane had managed only an assist in the series.
“I’m a player that wants the puck and I’m a better player when I have it,’’ said Kane. “I think whether it was teammates, coaches, coaches from the past, my parents, just saying that, ‘You’ve got to want the puck.’ That’s what I tried to do in the last two games. Felt like I had more success when I did that.
“Now I’ll try to have the same mind-set going into the finals. I’ll just try to get the puck and make plays, not so much worry about scoring or getting an assist or points, just try to get it and make plays.’’
It stung Kane when he watched the Bruins beat the Canucks in the 2011 Cup Final, because it meant the Blackhawks’ championship reign was officially over.
“Everyone on our team was probably rooting for it at the time not to be Vancouver,’’ Kane said. “At the same time when [the Bruins are] lifting it up a year after you did, from the time we spent with it, whether it was in the summer, our days with the Cup, banner raising, things like that, the Cup kind of felt like it was yours.
“It was tough to see, for sure.’’
In his quest to reclaim it, Kane has devoted himself to his craft. He has a girlfriend now, which has had a stabilizing influence in his life. The Party Life has succumbed to The Quiet Life.
Kane has become a much more mature person than he was in 2009, when he pled guilty to misdemeanor assault of a Buffalo cab driver. Last year he might have celebrated a series-clinching hat trick with a drunken tour of Rush Street.
Kane has become more cognizant of his public persona and guarded about his private life.
“Whether it’s just walking down the street to try to go to a movie, go to dinner, something like that, there’s always a few people who recognize you,’’ Kane said. “You kind of learn to wear the hat down low by your eyes, keep the head down and keep walking.’’
As Kane has discovered, it is best not to stray from the straight and narrow path.
“There are great fans in Chicago,’’ Kane said. “I think you’d rather have them recognize you than not recognize you.’’
For all the right reasons.
How the Blackhawks were built
The key to the Blackhawks’ recent run of success is the team’s ability to build through the draft. More than half of their goals and assists this postseason have come from homegrown players. Chicago’s playoff contributors include eight players it drafted within the first two rounds – led by the No. 1 overall choice in 2007, Patrick Kane -- and if you count those acquired through other means, the Blackhawks have six former first-round picks on their roster.
Playoff scoring breakdown (125 total points)
Drafted players: 70 points, 56.0%
Players acquired by trade: 39 points, 32.1%
Free agent signees: 16 points, 12.8%
F Patrick Kane, 1st round (2007, 1st overall)
F Jonathan Toews, 1st round (2006, 3d overall)
D Brent Seabrook, 1st round (2003, 14th overall)
F Dave Bolland, 2d round (2004, 32d overall)
F Bryan Bickell, 2d round (2004, 41st overall)
F Brandon Saad, 2d round (2011, 43d overall)
G Corey Crawford, 2d round (2003, 52d overall)
D Duncan Keith, 2d round (2002, 54th overall)
D Niklas Hjalmarsson, 4th round (2005, 108th overall)
F Andrew Shaw, 5th round (2011, 139th overall)
F Marcus Kruger, 5th round (2009, 149th overall)
Players acquired by trade:
F Patrick Sharp, from Flyers (Dec., 2005)
D Nick Leddy, from Wild (Feb., 2010)
F Viktor Stalberg, from Maple Leafs (June, 2010)
F Michael Frolik, from Panthers (Feb., 2011)
D Johnny Oduya, from Jets (Feb., 2012)
F Michal Handzus, from Sharks (April, 2013)
Free agent signees:
F Marian Hossa, 12 years (July, 2009)
F Brandon Bollig, 2 years, extension (April, 2010)
F Daniel Carcillo, 1 year, extension (July, 2011)
G Ray Emery, 1 year, extension (Oct., 2011)
D Michal Rozsival, 1 year (Sept., 2012)
D Sheldon Brookbank, 2 years (July, 2012)