He might be one of the smallest players ever taken No. 1 overall in the NHL draft, but Patrick Kane is standing tall for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. Kane not only is leading the Blackhawks in scoring (30 points), but he's leading all NHL rookies.

Listed generously at 5-foot-10, Kane gives up size every night. Even so, it hasn't affected his ability to make a difference on the ice. Of course, Blackhawks' coach Denis Savard was the same size during his 17-year Hall of Fame career.

"People mention my size, but if I was 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, maybe I wouldn't be the same player I am today," Kane said. "I'm just thankful for everything I have.

"Obviously, the opportunity with [Savard] has helped, too. . . . I mean, I think we can relate to each other . . . the style of game that we both play."

Genuine excitement is winding its way around the Windy City this season. Even though the Hawks are in fourth place in the Central Division, they were just two points out of the playoff picture as the Western Conference, much like the East, has a group of teams bunched up within points of each other.

"It's funny. Coming into this season, there was talk about how there wasn't really much buzz around the Blackhawks, the attendance wasn't very good, all of that," Kane said. "The first game we're there, it sold out. I think things are starting to turn around. Hopefully, we can turn a buzz into a real contender team.

"If I'm a piece of that puzzle, that's great. I'll be happy to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization."

Kane approached the season with realistic goals, namely just making the opening-day roster.

"Once that kind of happened, things started coming in," Kane said. "I seemed to get a little more ice time here and there, some more opportunities to play with better players, and I had a good start."

Kane isn't the only young star in Chicago. Fellow rookie Jonathan Toews (24 points) is second to Kane in the rookie points race.

"Myself and Jonathan, we're playing against the top checking lines," Kane said. "I guess you don't expect things to happen that quick. But at the same time, I think we're going through a little slump right now. Got to get going and get back to where we were about a month ago."

Last night, Kane played his first NHL game in his hometown, Buffalo.

"Buffalo is pretty much where my life is," Kane said. "It's where my family is. It's where my life started. It's where I started playing hockey. It's where I go back to in the summer and where all my friends are. It's going to be awesome. I'm not really sure what to expect right now, but I'm sure it will be a lot of fun for me."

Whether he knows it or not, Kane already is being considered one of the new faces of U.S. hockey in Chicago, drawing comparisons to former Blackhawks stalwart Jeremy Roenick.

"I haven't thought too far ahead," Kane replied. "But that would be unbelievable, to play in the Olympics one day, put on the USA sweater. That would be awesome. But as far as the face of USA hockey, I think you can't really just look at me.

"There's so many other good young players out there. Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, [Phil] Kessel. Even [James] vanRiemsdyk, he's coming up. I think there are so many players.I wouldn't be surprised if there's a few more coming along the way."


Ask Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella who the best player in the NHL is this season and his response is identical to a recent TSN poll: Vinny Lecavalier.

"He is the best player in the league," Tortorella told the Canadian Press. "I don't care what anybody else talks about. And I say that, and I'm not trying to be disrespectful to anybody else. I just see that as a coach, I can put him in any situation and feel comfortable, offensively and defensively. And how has handled himself in the room and matured there - I just think puts him above and beyond."

Great visit.

Wayne Gretzky will visit with young skaters representing the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation on Tuesday at the Wachovia Center after the Phoenix Coyotes' morning skate, which should end around 11 a.m.