By Steve Silverman-

(CBS) Patrick Kane has been an easy player to criticize throughout his career with the Chicago Blackhawks.

He was the No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft. Two years before he was selected, the Pittsburgh Penguins used the top pick to take Sidney Crosby, who is often acknowledged as the best player in the game.

The year after Kane was selected by the Hawks, Steven Stamkos was picked by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Stamkos is almost certainly the top goal scorer in the game.

Kane really does not compare with either of those two stars. Crosby is going to be a in a category with the game’s all-time giants – Orr, Gretzky and Lemieux – by the time he calls it a career and Stamkos may not be far behind.

So get that thought out of your mind. He is not an all-time great.

But Kane is the kind of player who can help his team win and do it consistently. He has as many Stanley Cups as Crosby and one more than Stamkos.

Kane has been flying since the start of the truncated hockey season. He has been cashing in on the opportunities that escaped him last year and he has the creativity with the puck on his stick that few players have.

Some call it maturity. Kane has had a number of embarrassing incidents over the years involving cab drivers and drunken escapades that have caused his teammates to put their hands on their heads and shake.

But that’s not the case this year. Head coach Joel Quenneville sees consistency.

“I see it, whether it’s his preparation going out for a practice or on the ice going into games or on the bench in the game,” Quenneville told the Chicago Tribune. “He wants to be on the ice. He’s bringing meaning to his shifts. There’s an awareness defensively (and) offensively. He looks quick and his shot looks like it has a little more zip to it.”

A look at the numbers helps explain why the Blackhawks have not lost a game in regulation in the first 10 (8-0-2). Kane is the third-leading scorer in the league behind Thomas Vanek of Buffalo (19 points) and Stamkos (16 points).

Kane has scored six goals and nine assists for 15 points, but what makes him so effective is his quickness and lateral agility in the offensive zone. When Kane has the puck, he is going to find the angles to get off his shots and passes.

In the Hawks last victory over the San Jose Sharks, who were off to a dominant start themselves, Kane pounced on the puck in the offensive zone and scored two goals.

Instead of a shot that rings off the post or gets blocked by the defense, Kane is pouncing on the puck and burying it in the back of the net.

Kane appears to be a different player than he was last year when he had 23 goals and 43 assists. For most players, that’s a good and productive year. Those numbers were fairly close to what Kane had accomplished in his previous four seasons with the Hawks.

But to Kane, it felt like he was not at a high level anymore and he was committed to doing a lot better this season.

Of course, that process was delayed by Gary Bettman’s ill-fated player lockout. Instead of flying up and down the wing at the United Center and other venues in the NHL, Kane had to practice his skills in Switzerland.

Playing overseas was the route that nearly 200 NHL players took during the strike and the Swiss League that Kane played in was nowhere near as competitive as the Kontinental Hockey League, made up primarily of Russian teams.

Instead, Kane chose to play in Switzerland and the virtual non-contact game that is played in that country. Kane returned as the lockout was lifted and he was in shape and fully motivated to get off to a good start.

Kane is so quick in the offensive zone that it becomes very difficult to stop him. He’s got the kind of lateral movement in the offensive zone that enables him to get open regularly and present himself as a target for passes.

When he has the puck on his stick, he draws defenders to him and that creates space for teammates. As soon as he finds a crease in the defense, he can pound his shot or fire a deft pass that leads to a stellar scoring opportunity.

He may not be in the same category as Crosby or Stamkos, but he does not have to take a back seat to Erik Johnson, John Tavares, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov. Those are other recent No. 1 picks, and while all are good players, none have come close to matching Kane’s career accomplishments.

It’s time to stop criticizing Kane and start appreciating everything he can do on the ice. If the Hawks can stay close to the level they are at right now, Kane just may find himself playing for a second Stanley Cup in just a few months.

steve silverman small Silverman: Kane Finding New Level Of Productivity For Blackhawks

Steve Silverman

Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.

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