Kane wins top OHL rookie honour

RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Before he finally popped onto the scene last summer, most hockey observers wondered if Pat Kane would play for the London Knights.

Following a fabulous first season in which he won the OHL scoring title and added the Emms Family Award as the league's rookie of the year yesterday, Kane now wonders why he didn't sign up sooner.

"Looking back, it should've been the easiest decision I've had to make in my life so far," the 18-year-old Buffalo native said. "I've been treated well since the first day I got here. I feel I learned a lot with Mark and Dale Hunter here and Dave Gagner behind the bench."

Because of NCAA restrictions, all talented 16- and 17-year-old Canadian and U.S. hockey players are forced to choose either major junior and its pro-like schedule or the U.S. college route with fewer games but lots of time for an athletics-academics mix.

With Kane as poster boy, the Knights and OHL hope his story will lure the next wave of great players to their programs the way Owen Sound captain Bobby Ryan's advice at a U.S. world junior camp captured Kane's attention.

Kane, who is also a candidate for the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's outstanding player, becomes the fourth Knight to win top rookie honours and first since Columbus star Rick Nash six years ago. He is the third U.S.-born player in the last five years to win after Mississauga's Rob Schremp (2002-03) and Patrick O'Sullivan (2001-02).

"When you're mentioned with names like Rick Nash, Rob Schremp and Patrick O'Sullivan, that's a good group to be included with," Kane said. "I came here and my expectation was to fill the role of Rob Schremp on this team. I don't think there were very high expectations outside of the (dressing) room, but we bonded together and had a great year."

Kane, the third straight Knight to win the league scoring title after Corey Perry and Schremp, tied Schremp's point total of 145 from last season and bested him in goals (62 to 57) at a year younger.

He really hit his stride after leading the bronze-medallist U.S. in scoring at the world junior championship in Sweden. He had 18 goals and 33 points in his first 11 games back with London.

"It's been a long season and I'm a little tired out right now," Kane said. "With exhibition, regular season, the world juniors and a long playoff run, it's been a lot of games."

Listed at five-foot-10 and 170 pounds, Kane's skill quickly convinced scouts his size didn't matter and he was worthy of his status as one of the top first-round picks in the upcoming NHL draft.

"I didn't really think about (the physicality of the OHL) -- maybe guys take runs at you sometimes, but I didn't think it was an issue for me at all. I know I need to get stronger and I'm going to work at it."

Now the big question is whether he will be coming back to the Knights in the fall.

There's a chance he will if the NHL team that takes him -- likely the lottery-winning Chicago Blackhawks, No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers or No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes -- feels he would be better served back with the Knights. He cannot play in the American Hockey League next year.

Regardless, he won't be wearing the same long, bright blond hairdo he did during London's playoff run.

"I think I'll have to give it a little trim before (the draft)," he said with a laugh.

Sarnia's Steve Stamkos finished second in rookie voting with 51 points (33 behind Kane's as voted on by member teams) and Mississauga's Alex Pietrangelo was third with 24.

---

TOP ROOKIE KNIGHTS

2006-07: Pat Kane

2000-01: Rick Nash

1987-88: Rick Corriveau

1972-73: Denis Maruk


Videos

Photos