BUFFALO – In what are likely his final days with the Sabres, winger Evander Kane said he’s trying to embrace his uncertain future.
Whether it goes down today, next week or hours before the Feb. 26 trade deadline, the last-place team will almost certainly deal Kane, an established scorer set to cash in as an unrestricted free agent this summer.
“It’s not something I really try to block out,” Kane, who was reunited with top center Jack Eichel on Wednesday, said of his future.
Perhaps blocking it out would help Kane’s production. Once one of the NHL’s hottest scorers, Kane, 26, has been mired in a scoring slump for more than two months.
“I’m staying confident in what I can do,” Kane said. “Eventually it will turn.”
While Kane speaks positively, the difficult situation is clearly wearing on the nine-year veteran.
Kane has produced just four goals in the last 28 games. He has compiled zero goals and one assist in the last nine contests entering tonight’s tilt against the Florida Panthers at KeyBank Center.
Remember, the speedy Kane got off to a torrid start, scoring 12 goals in the first 21 games.
“I haven’t created much offensively the last little bit, and when I have they haven’t gone in or I hit some bars,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not fun when you’re not producing, but it’s part of the long year.”
So what has happened to the Sabres’ early-season MVP? Sure, it was unlikely he would keep scoring at a 46-goal pace. But 30 goals seemed likely for Kane, who scored 28 times in his final 58 outings last season.
Kane possesses a strong shooting mentality. For example, he pumped 26 shots on goal in the first three games this season, including a whopping 11 opening night. But he hasn’t been putting pucks on net.
He registered zero in Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to New Jersey, just the second time this season an opponent blanked him. He has a meager four shots in the last four games.
“Anybody in his situation, sometimes it can be difficult, especially going through a stretch where a lot of things aren’t going your way,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “He’s just got to find a way to work through it. You go back, he hit a crossbar on the road, maybe that would’ve sparked him in Vancouver (last week).
“He’s getting some opportunities. It just hasn’t been going in.”
Housley added: “A lot of times he can use his speed a little bit better attacking with wide speed and trying to get some shots off. I’ve never had a problem with his shot mentality. He tries to get as many pucks to the net as possible.”
Kane hasn’t been getting his 6-foot-2, 212-pound frame to the net much, either.
“He hasn’t had opportunities to,” Housley said. “He’s playing on the power play. He hasn’t gotten the puck a lot in the middle there because he’s coming, they know he’s got a quick release.”
Housley recently moved Kane to the third line with Johan Larsson, the center he quietly produced much of his offense beside last season. On Wednesday, Housley put Kane back with Eichel, his regular pivot most of the season, and Kyle Okposo.
“They had good chemistry early,” Housley said of Kane and Eichel. “It was just a change to maybe spark Evander a little bit.”
Okposo understands what Kane might be experiencing. Two seasons ago, Okposo played out his contract with the New York Islanders.
While Okposo was told he wouldn’t be traded, he still heard whispers – “Definitely tough to hear,” he said – he could be dished.
“You got to really just keep it between your ears and really just focus on the task at hand and playing, because once you start thinking at that, that’s when it gets really tough,” Okposo said. “I know (Kane) hasn’t been scoring as much as of late. You just have to try to focus on your game. … It’s a really tough situation.”