Kane could stick in NHL next season

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:13 PM ET

London forward Pat Kane was pumped to see his first pro basketball game live last night as he and Knights teammate Andrew Wilkins got set to watch the Cleveland Cavaliers face the Toronto Raptors.

But even with the hoops trip on tap, the 18-year-old Buffalo native couldn't help but think about hockey -- especially after London's big 4-3 victory over Kitchener on Tuesday.

"In middle school, I played basketball in Grade 8 and I was kind of the same kind of player that I am in hockey," Kane said. "I was a point guard who scored 20 points a game and my job was to set up plays. In a way, basketball is a lot like hockey. It's five on five and there's a lot of passing."

Based on his recent ice play, there are rumblings the OHL's leading scorer and projected first-round NHL draft pick could be gone after this season. Much like former 18-year-old star Rick Nash, who stayed with Columbus rather than return to London, Kane has an impressive skill set that could see him in the NHL next year.

"I don't know where I'll end up, but you just have to enjoy this process," said Kane, who routinely fields calls from media and visits from NHL scouts. "It would be great to play in my hometown (for the Sabres), but that doesn't look like it'll happen. Right now, I'm just trying to do my best in this league.

"I've been tired a bit lately, but my confidence is high. Anybody who comes back from world juniors will have that and the guys I get to play with here is a big reason (for his point production)."

His departure would seriously hinder the Knights' plans for participating in the 2008 Memorial Cup, but the Hunters have been in that situation before. The Knights owners know how to adapt, which is a major reason why the Knights are chasing a fourth OHL regular season title and looking to get back to the Cup this year.

"We want to win, but we're a development league so you're glad when a player is able to make it to the NHL like that," London head coach Dale Hunter said. "It's like Peterborough with (Jordan) Staal. No one was sure if he'd make it and he has 20 goals this year. That's a credit to Peterborough. When you develop kids like that, other kids want to come play for you. That's the way it works. They want to be developed because every kid's dream is to play pro."

Kane's teammate Sergei Kostitsyn, who was so close to his dream of turning pro at the start of the season, could've sulked and refused to risk injury after being sent back to London. But the popular Belarussian has become the Knights' most important all-around player and has no problem with putting his body in harm's way, as shown by his 30 hard minutes of action against Kitchener.

"Sergei played about the same as (Steve) Downie did for them (Kitchener) -- every team has their top guns," Hunter said. "(Montreal GM) Bob Gainey made it clear he wanted Sergei to play with us this year and be a key guy. He has killed penalties five-on-three. He has played defence on the power play.

"When he gets to the pros, who knows what will happen -- he could be put in all kinds of different situations -- but he'll have already done it all here and maybe that's how he breaks in. It's hard to jump right onto the first power play in the NHL.

"Defence gets you into the league, then you go on and do your scoring and at the end, it's defence that keeps you in the league when you're older."

It's also defence that keeps a player in the London lineup late in the game. Forward Josh Beaulieu saw some important third-period minutes in his first game back from missing 11 games with a high ankle sprain.

"There's a trust that gets built up over four years with the Hunters," he said. "You'll always see the guys who have been there before out at the end of the game logging big minutes. It's not like our younger guys aren't capable -- they've all been out there at key times in games this year -- and that's why you can't worry about how much ice you're getting."

Knights notes

London trainer Don Brankley, who joined the Knights when he was 21, turned 59 yesterday . . . Injured forward Sam Gagner practised yesterday and a decision is expected be made today if he will rejoin the team tomorrow night against the Soo . . . Captain Robbie Drummond didn't skate yesterday after being checked in the head Tuesday by Kitchener defenceman Jakub Kindl. His status for this weekend is unknown.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tomorrow: vs. Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Saturday: at Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m.


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