Kane thrust into leadership role in quest for repeat

The stall to Patrick Kane’s left in the Chicago Blackhawks’ dressing room at the United Center belongs – for now, at least – to Teuvo Teravainen, a teenager with dazzling offensive skills and limitless potential, a bally­hooed player with the hockey world at his feet and heavy expectations on his shoulders.

Kane, the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, knows a little something about that.

“It’s almost like you have a little project when you’re sitting next to this guy,” Kane said. “You want to teach him a few things, talk to him, tell him about the game. It’ll be fun to play with him.”

That sense of responsibility and leadership is still relatively new for Kane, still practically a kid himself at 24. He always has had otherworldly offensive gifts but last year he seemed to enter a new phase of his career. A humbled and matured Kane became a leader in the locker room, a model citizen off the ice, and a more well-rounded, defensively responsible player on it.

The impact was obvious: his best season (55 points in just 47 games) and the Conn Smythe Trophy to go with the Stanley Cup. And now, Kane wants to take yet another step.

“You always want to improve your speed and your strength; I’d like to be better in the one-on-one battles this year and make sure I’m coming away with those pucks,” said Kane, who lost a few pounds over the summer but looks fitter and stronger than ever. “I feel like when I do get the time and space, I can make some plays, so I can be a little bit better in that.

“I think I’m getting better defensively as time goes on, whether it’s stripping pucks or blocking passes, but you want to do something with those opportunities. All around, from top to bottom, you want to just keep getting better — shot, stickhandling, speed, strength, defensive, everything.”

The Blackhawks started their season last Tuesday with a 6-4 win over Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals, Chicago is next in action on Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues, with matches on Friday against the New York Islanders and Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Kane’s attitude toward improving has impressed the Blackhawks and head coach Joel Quenneville.

“He’s a special, special player to begin with,” Quenneville said. “To not be satisfied where he’s at, you like that type of an attitude going into a season. You like the fact that the best guys, they keep wanting to get better. That’s what makes them special. He gives me the impression that that’s what he’s looking for and he’s going to find a way to do it.”

Kane has always been a fast starter in the regular season — he had nine points in the first five games last year — but claims he struggles during the preseason. His desire to improve in every phase overshadows his scoring prowess.

“It’s always nice coming out of the gates hot and trying to score some goals and feel good about yourself for the rest of the season,” Kane said. “But you can always improve on different things. It’s always nice to score, but you can always get better.”