Jamal Mayers was choosing his words cautiously regarding Patrick Kane.
I have to be careful. I dont want his head to get any bigger than it already is, Mayers said jokingly after Saturdays practice.
All kidding aside, however, the veteran admires the 23-year-old Kanes recent role. Playing the No. 1 center position can be an unenviable task. But Kanes play there in the absence of Jonathan Toews has been stellar.
Ive been telling him for a couple weeks now that hes surprised me in raising his game, Mayers continued. Hes skating the best hes ever skated. And you add his vision and awareness on the ice and he has the opportunity to be the best player on the ice every night.
Kanes work lately could be measured in a few ways. The obvious is points: Kane has nine in his last nine games, including five (two goals, three assists) in his current four-game point streak. But thats just looking at the obvious. Kane has been skating well, is always a threat and is part of a strong top line with Marian Hossa and Andrew Brunette.
And hes taken on some leadership, too.
I like the fact that hes absorbing responsibility without Johnny around, coach Joel Quenneville said. He knows the importance of the situation with our team, where we we're at and where we are today. He wants to make an impact on games and its been noticeable.
Viktor Stalberg agreed.
Hes had some stretches where hes struggled. Hes still a young guy; you kind of forget that sometimes. But the last couple games hes been great for us, he said. We needed someone to fill that first-line center void for Toews and hes been doing a good job with it.
Kane, for his part, doesnt feel hes doing anything different than normal. He said recently that he does feel good at center right now and its showing. But Kane said its been a team effort in Toews absence.
You see a lot of guys playing a lot of different roles now and its nice to see everybody step up, too, he said. Everyone knows we miss Johnny but theres no predicting when hell be back. We have to have different players step up, get a little bit more ice time and more opportunity. Its a good test for everyone.
That includes Kane. Hes still 23, still has years ahead of him. But at a time when hes needed to grow in his game and take charge, he has.
Hes definitely taken a step forward, Mayers said. And it hasnt gone unnoticed.