Patrick Kane has been in the spotlight since he was selected first overall by the Blackhawks in 2007 before playing nearly a decade’s worth of marquee games for the NHL’s favorite-son franchise that climaxed with three Stanley Cups in six years.
But never quite in this context, where the focus was on him and him alone, as the Rangers — another team! — disrupted their operation for nearly a week in order to accommodate his acquisition. There is no precedent for the machinations the organization took in order to slip Kane into Blueshirt No. 88.
No precedent for willingly playing two men short in a game as on Feb. 26 against the Kings, when the club kept Braden Schneider and Ryan Carpenter on the bench throughout in order to protect against injury ahead of their planned demotion to AHL Hartford.
Carpenter, who did get onto the ice for 13 seconds after serving K’Andre Miller’s 5:00 match penalty for spitting, had been a teammate of Kane’s for three seasons in Chicago.
“Just watching some of the games, you know, guys were sitting on the bench, other things were going on, and I was just, like, shaking my head,” Kane said following his first Rangers practice on Tuesday.
“And actually, Carpenter texted me before that one game and was like, ‘You better be worth it, I’ve got to sit on the bench the whole game.’ ”
The Rangers are certain the temporary upheaval will indeed be worth every maneuver and every discomfort once the 16-year veteran is fully integrated into the program. The first two games, both defeats, didn’t even meet the definition of dress rehearsals. No. 88 was either deferring to his new teammates or he was forcing passes to once-and-present teammate Artemi Panarin.
“It’s been a nutty two weeks, put it that way,” head coach Gerard Gallant said. “But if they asked me to do it over again for the same result we’re going to get, I would say, ‘In a second.’ It’s well worth it.”
Kane would never tell you that he brought his star to New York, as a famous Yankees’ right fielder once did. He will never say that Chris Kreider, for instance, can only stir the drink bad. But the fact is that there has got to be some Reggie in Kane, no candy bar required. He must be himself. The Rangers did not, after all, trade for a complementary piece here. They want him and need him to be on the marquee.
“It is your team now, but there are guys who really built this culture up and built the team to where it is,” Kane said following his first Rangers practice. “Guys like Kreider, Zibanejad, Panarin, [Jacob] Trouba and [Adam] Fox, all these guys who have been here a long time.
“I say I want to fit in but also at the same time, I’ve always been better when I demand the puck and want the puck and have the puck more often. I’m pretty confident it will come, I’m confident in that, but I think right away, too, you don’t want to be coming in, and especially coming from a losing team, this team has such a winning culture right now …
“I don’t want to say, I don’t want to step on any toes but I’m trying to just fit in,” said the winger. “I think it’s the way to go to start but as time goes on, I think it will be important for me to be myself, especially as we get closer to the playoffs.
“That’s the real reason I’m probably here, for playoff experience and playing and coming through in those big moments.”
The anticipation of seeing Panarin and Kane together again six years after they were linemates for two seasons in Chicago equated to enthusiasm that would greet a Paul McCartney-Ringo Starr reunion. It’s likely, however, the one-time Beatles would not have missed as many notes as did Nos. 10 and 88 through their opening two matches. Apparently this is not as easy as riding a tandem bicycle.
“I know what people think and I know what people want but it was tough to do that right away,” said Kane, who has decided to live in Manhattan. “He’s one of the top five or 10 players in the league and when you have a chance to play with a guy like that it’s going to be special.
“It might not be the same as it was, it might be a little different, but I know he really wants to do well. I want to do well, so we’ll figure it out.”
The Rangers have stumbled through the fortnight, their 2-5-1 mark putting a top-three division finish in jeopardy if the team is unable to fully incorporate Kane and previous acquisition Vladimir Tarasenko into the mix sooner than later.
“Going back to the teams we won with in Chicago, there’s always a certain time and a certain period where you had to face adversity and had to get through it,” Kane said. “Sometimes it was in the regular season and sometimes it was in the playoffs.
“It seems like this team has battled adversity now, not playing with a full lineup, a lot of games for a while, acquiring new players, so hopefully this is our adversity here, we get through it and we’re better off for it.”
The operative word was, “We.”