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Why Evander Kane Should Play in the NHL in 2009 - 2010

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Back on September 10th, my colleague argued that Evander Kane ought to play out this year in the WHL. While I typically agree with The Falconer, it would be unfortunate if nobody argued the opposite; that Kane deserves a roster spot on the Thrashers this year. Personally, I have been on the fence regarding Evander; he has the compete-level of an NHLer, but he may not have the size or the strength. It’s one thing to push around guys who are your size… it’s quite another thing to play 82 games in the NHL against guys like Chris Pronger and Zdeno Chara.

Falconer’s argument centered around three questions:

  1. What is best for Evander?
  2. What is best for the Thrashers this season?
  3. What is best for the Thrashers long-term?

 I’ll make my counter-points in the same order and to the same questions after the jump...

What is best for Evander Kane?


If you ask Evander his thoughts, you’ll almost certainly get the well-practiced response that most young 1st round picks give. It goes something like this, "I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I can in juniors and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to play in the NHL this year." (As a side note, we got that same response from Paul Postma this year. It’s the very standard "don’t send me back" plea.)

Falconer suggests – and rightly so – that Evander is at risk of getting injured if he plays in the NHL. He cites past 18-year old Thrashers Patrik Stefan, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Bogosian as examples; each was injured their first season. How have they fared so far?

  • Stefan has already retired due to injury
  • Kovalchuk has not been seriously injured since
  • Bogosian came back and became the Thrashers’ best defenseman

It’s a mixed bag. Am I worried about Kane getting injured? Of course I am, but I’m not any more worried about him than I am Kari Lehtonen. There are a couple ways to significantly reduce the risk of injury, proper training and reduced ice time. Since being drafted at 176 lbs, Evander has bulked up to 190 lbs. Put a check mark next to "proper training." Ice time? If the training camp lines are any indication, Kane would be playing on the 3rd line with Marty Reasoner and Colby Armstrong. He would likely get some power play time, but he won’t be playing 1st line minutes. That’s an important difference as the more tired you are during a game, the more likely you are to get hurt.

I’m not as worried about Kane getting hurt as Falconer is, but I have one more reason to let Evander play with the big boys: confidence. There is nothing left for Kane to accomplish in the WHL. The phrase that you’ll hear often is "compete-level" – true competitors love to battle as much as they need to battle. We heard the same thing with Zach Bogosian; when he plays, he tries to win every shift. It’s not about the season or the game… it breaks down to winning every shift. Kane is the same way. If you stick him in the WHL for a year, he’ll win every shift, but he won’t be a better hockey player for it.

The way you help a player like Evander develop is to challenge him. How? Give him a spot to keep or to lose in the NHL.

Part of the problem here is the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). It stipulates which teams players drafted from juniors are eligible to join. For Kane, his choices are to go back to the Vancouver Giants or make the Atlanta Thrashers. Chicago Wolves? Not an option (so long as the Giants are in playoff contention). If not for the CBA, this would be a much easier decision.


What is best for the Thrashers this season?


Falconer makes the point that Zherdev would be far more effective for the Thrashers this year. I don’t disagree. It’d be difficult to argue that Kane would have a better season than Zherdev. In fact, I’ve been one of the first to argue that we should bring in Zherdev. (I’ve made that argument a few times on the Thrashers’ message boards under my name there, ChecksAndBalances.) However, I don’t think that this is the trade-off in question. We could easily sign Zherdev and give him a spot on the top two lines (and move White or Peverley for prospects or picks) if we wanted. I’m not necessarily opposed to that, though I think that White and Peverley are far more effective for the money than Zherdev would be, even factoring in their likely decline in points compared to last year.

Since The Falconer wrote that column, though, Zherdev signed with Atlant of the KHL. Perhaps he thought that was the closest he could get? If you ignore Zherdev, the situation changes. The question is whether your 3rd line is a scoring line (with Kane) or a checking line (with one of the many guys lined up to grab Colin Stuart’s spot like Jordan LaVallee or Spencer Machacek.)

"Wait a sec," you say. "How does one guy totally swing the style of play of a whole line?"

Colby Armstrong could play in the Top-6. He has played in the Top-6. He scored 22 goals last year, most of them at even-strength. He did this playing mostly on the 3rd line. He can play the checking game, but he’s also effective at scoring.

Marty Reasoner is the same way. He’s defensively responsible, but he put up a reasonable number of goals as well. (I apologize for the pun.) He is, along with Todd White, frequently overlooked among Thrashers faithful.

You’ve got two guys who can play a respectable defensive game or who can put points on the board. You pair them with a checking-role guy – Colin Stuart, for example – and they lean in that direction. You put them with a guy who can put the biscuit in the basket and they lean that way. Kane – Reasoner – Armstrong is a scoring line, plain and simple.

There are a lot of lines that Kane shouldn’t play on this year. Asking him to play with Kovalchuk, for example, is probably asking too much. Asking him to play 22 minutes/game is probably asking too much. Luckily, though, playing 15 or 16 minutes with Marty Reasoner and Colby Armstrong could be a golden opportunity.

What is best for the Thrashers long-term?


Falconer makes a valid point about Kane’s salary situation in that we could use payroll more efficiently by waiting a year. I’d like to make a different point, Kane is the logical successor to Slava Kozlov. (I’m not saying they play similar games, but Kane should be playing 2nd line wing in the 2-5 year timeframe.) Pushing his development forward a year will ease the transition. Remember: it's going to take time for Kane to adjust to the NHL game, whether it's this year or next.

Slava Kozlov is getting older. He’s still an effective player, but for him to remain an effective player, he’s going to have to see less ice time. Establishing a three-scoring-line system this year will be an important step. More important is preparing Kane to take over Kozlov’s spot in the near future. I don’t think Slava will retire this year; my best guess is that he’ll sign a new contract for one year at the end of the season. That means that Kane can get a year of experience on the 3rd line this year and take Kozlov’s 2nd line spot next year. Kozlov can play 2010 – 2011 as a 3rd line wing (a scoring line) and get extra minutes on the power play.

I’m not convinced that there is a large long-term difference. Play him in the NHL now and he gets more experience faster… but also sees a larger paycheck earlier. It’s impossible to predict if that’s a fair trade-off.

All that said, the thing that will determine whether Kane gets to stick with the big club this year isn’t our blogging, it’s his play on the ice. If Kane has a strong camp and a strong preseason, he’ll be on the team to start the year.

One thing’s for certain, Evander Kane looks forward to the challenge.