Shot-first mentality key to Kane's evolution

Patrick Kane will work on his pass-or-shoot decision making during the offseason. Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty Images

An even more offensively dangerous Patrick Kane could be returning to the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks next season.

Darryl Belfry, who is a skills analyst and development coach at Pro Playmakers, has trained Kane for much of his life and has witnessed Kane evolve to where he currently stands among the NHL’s top offensive players. But as far as Kane’s game has progressed, Belfry still believes there’s another sizeable step Kane can take, and he’s not that far from making it.

The next level for Kane is to become a more consistent scoring threat, which will not only benefit him but also his teammates. He got closer to that this season, hanging with Sidney Crosby at the top of the league in points through December, scoring 29 goals in 69 games and averaging a career-high 3.29 shots per game.

“He’s in the dual-threat role right now where he can navigate his way into home-plate ice, which is the most dangerous part of the ice,” Belfry said in a recent phone interview. “The issue now is decision-making in that area. What happens to this point is his thought process is to pass. He’s always viewing the position as better for someone else than himself. That mindset needs to change.”

Belfry’s problem with Kane having a pass-first mentality is everyone knows his intention as well. His teammates are preparing for him to pass. Opponents are preparing for him to pass. There’s little element of surprise, and it reduces Kane and his teammates’ offensive chances. Kane has still produced at a high rate despite that, but Belfry is confident his offense would increase if he altered his mindset.

“Thinking 'shot first,' if he doesn’t like what he sees, maybe there’s too much traffic or he sees someone out of the corner of his eye, he can use that position he’s in, a really good position, and he can pass to someone,” Belfry said. “Now when people are collapsing in that area, he’s giving teammates open nets to shoot on.

“If he goes into that area and doesn’t show himself as a shot threat, everyone is able to move in a timely fashion. Now if he beats defenders clean and has a mentality to shoot, when people are rotating to defend, you can make a play. If he does that, it’ll evolve his game to another level.”

Getting a player to do that can sometimes be a major hurdle for Belfry. First, the player needs to either recognize the issue himself or has to be convinced there’s one. Second, the player has to possess the shooting ability to be able to scare opponents.

Kane has made Belfry’s job easier in those two respects.

Kane spoke after the Blackhawks’ season of wanting to improve this offseason.

“One of the things I really want to work on this summer is my agility, the way I can cut,” Kane said. “Maybe beat defenders a little bit more than I was able to, especially with the injury I had at the end of the season. Work on that a little bit more.

“Obviously, try to work on your shot, get that better, especially as fast as the game is we play it’s tough to get scoring chances and the better your shot is, the better you’re going to have chances to score goals from farther out. So, skating, everything. Strength, everything.”

Belfry liked the sound of that.

“He knows there’s another level for him,” Belfry said. “He feels on the ice where the constraints are. You’re already halfway there. He knows what’s going on.

“The second thing is you have to develop the shot to be a threat. What he doesn’t realize is his shot is good enough. The issue is a mentality and what he’s trying to do with the shot. The shot is pretty good. He shoots it hard, can change angles, can shoots in stride. He’s three-quarters of the way there.”

The final quarter will be accomplished when Kane feels comfortable with the new approach. It’ll be what he and Belfry work on when they reunite on the ice later this summer.

“Patrick is like any really good top-end player; they feel it,” Belfry said. “You have to make the new pattern feel better than the old one. You just have to build the feel.”