Yes, you read that correctly. Patrick Kane is the NHL’s best winger.
I imagine hands are being thrust into the air in protest, claiming Alex Ovechkin to be definitively superior.
Some might even make a (flawed) argument for Daniel Sedin, Corey Perry, or Martin St. Louis – all great players, to be sure, but not on the level of Kane or Ovechkin.
So how has Kane surpassed everyone else to become the league’s best on the wing?
Let’s take a look. I consider Ovechkin to be the only other player who really belongs in the discussion here, so I’ll be comparing the two of them throughout this piece.
Patrick Kane’s Offensive Versatility
Kane, who began his career as a pure playmaker, has become the antithesis of a one-trick-pony. He is the only winger in the NHL with 15+ goals and 25+ assists, and sits second in the league in points trailing only this guy.
With 25 points at even strength, Kane has had the second-largest 5-on-5 impact of any winger in the NHL this season. His ability to create space for his own shot is just as noticeable at even strength as it is on the powerplay.
Speaking of powerplays, Kane’s also second in the league among wingers in total scoring with the man advantage and is first in assists.
His ability to dice up the box with a seam pass on the powerplay is matched by very few players – perhaps only Claude Giroux and Martin St. Louis.
Ovechkin’s (Lack Of) Offensive Versatility
Don’t misunderstand me – Ovechkin is a dominant offensive player. But being dominant does not preclude predictability, and Ovechkin’s entire offensive game is predicated on goalscoring ability. Additionally, his production is heavily reliant on powerplay opportunities, as he ranks an unimpressive 28th among wingers in even strength scoring this season.
Simply put, Ovechkin’s offensive game is absolutely exceptional in one area (goalscoring) and in one situation (on the powerplay), but he’s fairly unremarkable everywhere else. Kane is a far superior player at even strength while also being a great powerplay producer and a much better playmaker. The edge in offensive versatility goes to Kane, and by a sizable margin.
You might be asking “why does versatility matter?” The answer is simple. A player who can do many different things well is much more difficult to shut down than a player whose offensive assets are less diverse. This distinction between Kane and Ovechkin becomes especially important come playoff time, when powerplays are more scarce.
Versatility breeds consistency, and that is the biggest reason why this happened last June.
Kane and Ovechkin’s Scoring Totals In Context
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Kane’s season to date is that he’s been playing primarily with second-tier Blackhawk players. I love Brandon Saad and I’ve made that known before, but he’s not Hossa, Toews, or Sharp. Nor are Brandon Pirri or Michal Handzus.
Kane’s also gotten a nice chunk of time with Toews, so it’s not as if he’s always out there with secondary talent. But the majority of this season, he has been – which makes his point (and especially assist) totals all the more impressive.
Then there’s the fact that he plays in the West, the superior conference to an almost comical degree.
Ovechkin, meanwhile, plays in the inferior conference as well as the NHL’s worst division. He’s also spent essentially all of his time on the ice with Nicklas Backstrom – y’know, that guy with the 100-point season. It seems safe to say that we can’t fairly compare Kane and Ovechkin’s offensive statistics at face value in light of the latter’s several evident advantages over the former. And yet Kane’s been the better producer this season anyway.
By the way, I don’t want anyone to think I’m being negative to my main man Brandon Saad, so uh… here’s him and Kane being entirely awesome.
Addressing Potential Counterarguments
I’ve made my point. Now I’ll try to preemptively debunk some of the more predictable counterarguments from people who disagree.
“You didn’t even mention their defensive games!”
Why would I? Both of them are pretty weak in that respect.
A lot of Hawks fans will tell you that Kane’s made some clear strides in D-zone coverage this year, though, and I’d be one of them. Still not a guy I’m throwing out there with a 1 goal lead and the opposition’s goalie pulled, but he’s improving.
Ovechkin? Meh. Like Kane, he’s never been too keen on playing in his own zone. And of course, his fantastic defensive effort once inspired this.
Really, though, any difference between these two in their own zone is negligible.
“Goals are more valuable than assists!”
Based on the principle of scarcity, this is not untrue.
But things become quite a bit murkier when you consider player versatility as I did earlier.
Ovechkin scores almost half of his goals on the powerplay – based on scarcity, shouldn’t we also take into account that powerplay goals (and points) are less “valuable” than their even-strength counterparts?
It’s an interesting discussion. Ultimately, I think you have to value multi-dimensionality above all else. Kane’s wider spread of skills makes him a more imposing offensive threat than Ovechkin.
A quick note: Kane has taken an unquestionable step forward in terms of on-ice impact this season. I never would have made this argument last year. Chicago’s shooting percentage while Kane is on the ice is actually lower than its average in past seasons – this makes me especially confident that his play this year isn’t simply attributable to luck or a hot streak.
“Ovechkin plays on the Capitals, and Kane plays on the league’s highest-scoring team, which inflates his numbers!”
I just got done offering up a piece of evidence that indicates Kane’s numbers are actually the opposite of inflated. I’ve also mentioned other facts that invalidate this argument (conference and division disparity, linemate quality, etc.).
Also, maybe we can say that Chicago might just be scoring so much… because of how good Patrick Kane has been? Wild, wild logic, I know!
Let’s end things with this.
Kane’s the best winger in the game. If I’m wrong, tell me why.
Follow Sean Sarcu on Twitter: @seansarcu