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Here come the Hawks?
As team looks to take next step, Toews' confidence, wisdom will help immensely
By Tim Sassone | Daily Herald Staff

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews

 

John Starks | Staff Photographer

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Published: 4/11/2008 12:06 AM

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Editor's note: Tim Sassone's three-part series focuses on the future for the Blackhawks and what they need to do to become a Stanley Cup contender in the 2008-09 season.</p>

They didn't do it this season because the Blackhawks wanted Jonathan Toews to focus on being a rookie in the NHL.

But by opening night next season, it's more likely than not that Toews, at age 20, will be wearing the "C" as captain of the Hawks.

"I would have no hesitation at all," general manager Dale Tallon said when asked if he believed Toews was ready for the responsibility. "I think he is. Look at some of the things he says."

Despite his tender age, Toews emerged as a leader among the Hawks on and off the ice along the way in his rookie season.

He spoke up after a bad loss at home to Florida on Dec. 16, saying not enough of the Hawks hated to lose. The team responded by winning its next four games, with coach Denis Savard pointing to what Toews said as a spark.

Without Toews in the lineup from Jan. 1 through Feb. 7, the Hawks won only five of 15 games, which likely cost them a playoff spot.

This week Tallon again liked what he heard from Toews, about how the players shouldn't be satisfied with coming close to making the playoffs.

"I guess in a lot of ways you can say the season was a success off the ice, but we are all motivated to do a lot better and see more results next year," Toews said.

"We're all motivated and have that ambition to succeed and do better, whether it's us in the locker room or the people in the offices up there."

Savard pointed to the attitude, the will and determination of both Toews and fellow rookie Patrick Kane with leading what was a dramatic turnaround for the franchise in so many ways.

"They did more than (exceed expectations)," Savard said. "We've raised the bar here, and they know that and did that for our organization. They raised the bar for all of us.

"Expectations next year are going to be huge because of those two kids, part of it. Not only are they exciting to watch, but they want to win and they've got huge will. When you have kids that young that have that kind of will, it just filters down to everybody else in the organization."

Kane finished with 21 goals and 72 points to lead all NHL rookies in scoring. Toews topped all rookies with 24 goals and had 55 points in just 64 games.

Toews hopes to get bigger and stronger in the off-season so he can be a bigger part of the offense as the Hawks' No. 1 center.

"You just want to work on your skill set and just work on your ability to make things happen," Toews said. "I consider myself an offensive player, so I can work on some things that will make me more productive next year."

Toews again spoke like a veteran when he warned things are going to be more difficult for him and Kane in their second season.

"I guess now the excitement goes down a little bit," Toews said of the hype around him and Kane. "Especially the first few months of the year when every night you're excited and playing with a lot of emotion. When that goes down, I guess it's back to reality, and I think that's what it's going to be like next year. I'll be prepared for that."

Kane will spend the summer perfecting his game. It's not out of the question to think he can get to 90 points next year.

"I want to try to get a little stronger and work on my shot -- those are probably the two biggest things for me," Kane said. "I learned a lot, especially to take care of your body. In junior, you can take your liberties here and there, but up here it's a bigger grind and there are a lot more games so you have to prepare yourself better and make sure you do the right things for your body."

When all the numbers are crunched and bonuses calculated, it's possible Kane might reach all the incentives to go with being the No. 1 pick overall, which could cost the Hawks $3.7 million.

"It is what it is," Tallon said. "Whatever it is, it was worth it."

Charting a course

Tim Sassone's three-part series focuses on the future for the Blackhawks and what they need to do to become a Stanley Cup contender in the 2008-09 season.

• Part I: Jonathan Toews is ready to take charge

• Part II: A look at free agents who could help here

• Part III: There's more young talent in the pipeline