Blackhawks: Patrick Kane’s impact on American Hockey
By Kevin Braeunle
Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane has become a pioneer for Hockey in the US. He has helped spark growth in non-traditional markets and around the rest of the country.
Like virtually all Chicago Blackhawk fans, I grew up idolizing and modeling anything I did related to hockey after Patrick Kane. Regardless of whether or not you were a Blackhawks fan growing up, you no doubt acknowledged Kane as one of the pioneers of American hockey. As of right now, one could argue that he is the best American player ever.
The 2016 draft is a great look at how American hockey continues to grow and prosper. The draft at Keybank Center in Buffalo saw a record 12 Americans taken in the first round. The draft was headlined by American sensation Auston Matthews who like Kane, was drafted first overall. Six selections later the Arizona Coyotes selected Clayton Keller who was deemed a “very Patrick Kane like” player. Because both players were relatively young when Kane was drafted, they were able to grow up watching him and apply some of his skills to their own game.
After Matthews and Kane’s toe-to-toe battle back on October 7, 2018, Matthews had some praise for Kane and their exchange as he stated, “Pretty cool to go head-to-head and have that kind of exchange with a guy like him, who I’ve looked up to since I was a younger kid. So it was pretty cool.”
While Kane was able to help inspire young players like Matthews from non-traditional markets, he is probably more well-known for paving the way for smaller skilled players.
Kane has been able to inspire a new generation of young hockey players throughout the United States. He has proven to young American hockey players that size is not a factor when it comes to working up the ranks in hockey. Players like Clayton Keller, Jack Hughes, and Johnny Gaudreau have followed in Kane’s footsteps. It seems as though the league has been getting smaller and smaller since Kane has come into the league and teams have shifted there focus to faster and more skilled players which tend to be smaller than average. Keller himself noted this change while referencing to Kane and Gaudreau,
"“The game has changed and there are a lot of smaller, skilled guys coming to the league. They’re two of the best but not two of the biggest, so I try to watch as much of them as possible to put parts of their game into my game.” – Clayton Keller"
Because of Kane’s success, he has shown that size should not hinder your ability to make the NHL and be successful. Looking at the Americans in last year’s draft, many of the players exemplified the skill and size of Kane. Of those players was another first overall pick: Jack Hughes. When given the chance to play alongside Kane at last year’s IIHF World Championships Hughes tried to soak in all he could.
"“That’s a guy I grew up idolizing, so to be in a room with him, and him treating me as well as he did, it was a lot of fun.” – Jack Hughes"
Not only has Kane painted a path for smaller players to the NHL but he is helping to grow the game locally. Chicago, once not known for being a hockey hotbed is now one of the best places for youth hockey. The Chicago Mission remains one of the best youth travel teams in the country and the University of Illinois is extremely close to adding a division one ice hockey team. Kane and the Blackhawk’s success has also led to a spike in youth hockey throughout Illinois.
"“USA Hockey membership in the state of Illinois has ballooned from just over 21,000 registered players in 2008-09 to nearly 30,000 in 2013-14, representing 36.6 percent growth in playing membership over that span which far outpaces national averages.” – Chris Peters, ESPN"
On top of that, the Chicago Steel continues to be a force in the USHL while the league continues to see more Illinois born players join the league.
"“This season, 44 Illinois natives have played in a USHL regular-season game, according to data provided by the Elite Prospects website. That is the most since the 2014-15 season, when a record 55 Illinois natives played in a regular-season or postseason USHL game.Between 2000-01 and 2009-10, there were never more than 35 Illinois natives who played in the league in a given season. In eight of the 10 seasons since then, there have been 40 or more Illinois players in the league. There were more than 50 Illinois players in two of those seasons.” – Ryan Nilsson, The Chicago Tribune"
It seems as though Kane has started a domino effect when it comes to American hockey. Not only are we seeing numerous players coming out of non-traditional markets, but youth hockey in Chicago and around the country continues to flourish.