“It must be a joke around the league: You score two goals against the Buffalo Sabres and you’re going to win the hockey game,” said a disgruntled Evander Kane in late November.
He was right.
At the time, the team was averaging just 1.82 goals per game, worst in the league by far. Kane made these comments in an attempt to address the problem that was Buffalo’s offensive production and to energize the uninspired Sabres’ forwards, but up until recently, Kane was part of that problem.
The 25-year-old cracked three ribs after crashing into the boards during the team’s season opener, an injury that kept him out until mid-November. Kane struggled upon his return, recording just two points in his first 10 games of the 2016-17 campaign. The Vancouver native’s lack of production sparked trade rumors, leading many Buffalo fans to believe that the Sabres’ brass was ready to move on from the player they gave up so much for in February of 2015.
However, the former Winnipeg Jets forward has been able to turn it on as of late. In his late five games, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft has five points (3 goals, 2 assists), scoring two goals in the team’s crazy come-from-behind victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Dec. 6.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 7, 2016
Kane has more than tripled his season point total in the past five games alone, and is currently on pace for roughly 38 points this season. While fans were certainly expecting more out of the former 30-goal scorer, the former Atlanta Thrashers winger could easily eclipse 38 points, especially if he continues playing the way he has been for the past number of games.
While Kane’s improved production could just be attributed to him playing up to his full potential, there are certainly a number of different aspects that have helped the winger find his stride.
Jack is Back
Most players in the National Hockey League would improve if they played on a line with 20-year-old Jack Eichel, and Evander Kane is no different.
Since the former second overall pick returned from an ankle sprain in late November, he has played on a line between Kane and 21-year-old Sam Reinhart, something that has been of great benefit to both wingers. Eichel’s return has allowed Kane to break out, as the former Memorial Cup winner has recorded at least one point in all but one of the games Eichel has played since his return.
Eichel’s return has helped Kane not only offensively, but defensively, as well. Before Eichel’s return, the former Vancouver Giants prospect had a minus-6 rating, often being out on the ice when Buffalo allowed a goal. Since the former Hobey Baker Award winner’s return, Kane has not finished a game with a minus rating, and is actually a plus-2 throughout the past five games. Though Kane still sits at a minus-4 rating on the year, his recent production suggests that he will not have a negative plus/minus rating for much longer.
Throughout the past five games, the Kane-Eichel-Reinhart line has been great for Buffalo. The grouping has scored four goals for the team, with the two players that didn’t bury the puck in the net often picking up assists on the goals.
Kane described Eichel as a “pretty dynamic player” as the former Boston University Terrier’s return drew closer, and Eichel has been just that for Kane’s game. Eichel’s return has almost single-handedly improved Kane’s production, something that Buffalo fans have been yearning for all season.
Something to Prove
If a Sabres fan has to describe Kane’s run with the team in one word, that word may be “underwhelming.”
When the team acquired Kane from the Jets in exchange for promising defenseman Tyler Myers, consistent winger Drew Stafford, talented prospects Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux, and a 2015 first round draft pick, fans expected to receive a powerful winger with offensive upside. They expected a difference maker. Instead, they’ve received a player who has become just another Buffalo forward not playing up to his full potential.
In his debut season with the team, Kane recorded 35 points, finishing fifth on the team in scoring. Kane’s lack of any significant production combined with a controversial off-season left many fans calling for his exit. This resulted in trade rumors involving the winger and some fans believing that Kane would be left unprotected in next summer’s expansion draft, essentially shipping him off to the Vegas Golden Knights for nothing in return.
The former WHL all-star’s early season struggle did nothing but place more doubts in the minds of the Buffalo faithful, and many had already given up on the young forward. Fortunately, it appears as though Kane has realized he has something to prove, and has been proving himself as a top six forward over the past number of games.
Kane wants to be a consistent producer for the Buffalo Sabres, and has been able to establish himself as just that over the past five games.
“I’m very, very, very happy with where I’m at here in Buffalo,” Kane said in late November. “And maybe I couldn’t have said that in the past in my career.”
Both Sabres’ management and Buffalo fans expect Kane to be one of the best players on the ice night in and night out, and recently, Kane has been just that. Hopefully, as the season progresses, Kane will continue put points on the board and help the Sabres win games, something fans of the Sabres were promised when he arrived in the Queen City.