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ESPN Magazine tabs Evander Kane in its ‘NEXT’ feature

Dec 31, 2010, 7:30 PM EST

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There’s a lot to like about Evander Kane.

Of course, it starts with his name. His last name is nice and easy, without all those extraneous syllables to get in the way. Most important is his first name, which was naturally inspired by Mike Tyson’s nemesis Evander Holyfield.

It wouldn’t be enough if it was Kane’s name alone. Instead, the young forward brings some punch with his scoring touch. In 37 games played, he already matched his 12 assists from has season and is only two goals behind the 14 he scored in his rookie year in 2009-10.

Yet it’s his combination of scoring ability, grit and versatility – not to mention his ethnic makeup – that inspired ESPN the Magazine’s EJ Hradek to name Evander Kane in its “NEXT” feature. Here is what Hradek wrote about Kane.

Crosby-like finesse and Cooke-like antagonism often overshadow Kane-like grit, but hockey purists have long embraced the likes of Gordie Howe, Mark Messier and Peter Forsberg — skill guys who scrap. And while no one is ready to anoint Kane the Next Mr. Hockey, he is NEXT for a number of reasons, not least because anything can happen when he’s on the ice. “Evander is one of those unique guys who can play in any situation,” says NHL Network analyst Craig Button, the former Flames GM. “Whether you need a goal or a hit or a defensive play, it’s in his repertoire.” Adds Islanders director of scouting Ken Morrow: “In my reports, I don’t often write ‘total package.’ I’d write it about Kane.”

Kane’s powerful shot and soft touch have him on pace for 26 goals and 50 points this season, and his improved play, along with the success of the guys around him, has Thrashers fans hoping for their team’s first playoff appearance since 2006-07. But Kane’s potential extends beyond the rink. Although he is one of only 18 black players in the NHL, blacks comprise about 61 percent of Atlanta’s population, which means Kane is positioned to reach new fans in a way that hasn’t been possible for a guy like Flames veteran wing Jarome Iginla (as blacks make up only 2 percent of Calgary’s population). The fact that Kane has three black teammates — Dustin Byfuglien, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago last season, Anthony Stewart and Johnny Oduya — gives the Thrashers a distinctive look.

“I’ve thought about having the ability to help bring the game to people who’ve never seen it before,” says Kane, the highest-drafted black player in NHL history. “I want to be a part of that.” He’s already noticing a little hockey fever among Atlantans. “I see more people in our jerseys at the mall and stuff. It’s a start.”

Kane is one of the many reasons why people can’t wait to see what’s ‘next’ for the Atlanta Thrashers.

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