SAN JOSE, Calif. — Evander Kane followed a similar timeline after each of his first eight NHL regular seasons.
Pack up the locker, say goodbye to teammates and get frustrated watching other players compete in the playoffs rather than getting his own opportunity on the big stage.
A late-season trade to San Jose changed all that for Kane, who is excited for his first chance at the postseason after 574 career games when the Sharks open their first-round series in Anaheim on Thursday night.
“I’ve said it in the past: I think I’m a playoff player,” Kane said Monday. “I’ve watched the playoffs and when I look at the style of play and it’s something I was jealous because I wasn’t involved in it. Now I get that opportunity and I have to back those words up.”
Kane has had plenty of personal success since making his debut for Atlanta as an 18-year-old in 2009 after being the fourth overall pick that year. But his teams never had success in Atlanta, Winnipeg or Buffalo, and he always spent the spring as a spectator rather than as a participant.
He joins a franchise that has been a playoff regular, making the postseason for the 13th time in the past 14 seasons under general manager Doug Wilson, including a run to the Stanley Cup Final two years ago.
“Fans and players in this organization are spoiled when it comes to that,” center Logan Couture said. “You make the playoffs 13 of 14 years — obviously it starts at the top with Doug and the coaching staffs they’ve brought in here. It’s pretty remarkable really to make the playoffs that many times. I missed it once and it’s devastating when you miss it. We’re lucky to play for this organization.”
That’s why Kane was so excited about the trade to San Jose on Feb. 26 for two draft picks and a prospect.
Kane has made a big impact on the Sharks since arriving. He stepped right onto the top line with captain Joe Pavelski and has used his speed and physical play to deliver nine goals and five assists in 17 games.
His presence sparked an eight-game winning streak in March that helped San Jose clinch a playoff berth, and he has helped fill a scoring void created when Patrick Marleau left as a free agent for Toronto last summer and then Joe Thornton went down with a knee injury in January.
“In the short period he’s been here, he’s brought speed which backs teams off, he’s brought a physical presence, which keeps some people honest,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “For me, the biggest thing is he’s probably added a goal a night for us. When Patty Marleau left, and we asked guys to take a step, you’re not scoring as much as you normally would, and there was a lot of 2-1 games and we found a way to battle things out. Eventually, Jumbo going down, it started to catch up with us. That extra goal a game that he’s added to our lineup, whether it’s him scoring himself or creating a goal, that’s a difference in this league.”
Kane was hampered late in the season by an undisclosed injury that forced him to miss two games before returning for the season finale against Minnesota on Saturday.
Kane didn’t look like his usual self that game but said it was important to get rid of some “cobwebs” before the playoffs started and he gets the chance to back up his belief that he can thrive at this time of year.
“It’s a fast, hard-nosed game,” he said. “The intensity ramps up and the style of play. It’s hard to score. There are a lot of 2-1 games, 3-2 games, and you have to find different ways to score. I’ve always prided myself on being able to score in different ways and I think the physical element as well. That’s a big part of the playoffs. Guys who have 20 hits all year the next thing you know they have 20 hits in two games. It’s definitely a different animal, and I’m looking forward to experiencing it.”
DeBoer said he expects all his players to be available for Game 1 on Thursday with the exception of Thornton, who has been out since Jan. 23.