Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011
Posted 9:06 p.m.
By Tracey Myers
RALEIGH, N.C. John Stevens remembers always getting a look from Patrick Sharp when the Philadelphia Phantoms were prepping for a game-deciding shootout.
He was always looking over his shoulder at you, hoping to be picked, said the former Phantoms coach, now an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings. He always had that look of confidence to be the guy to help the team win.
Sharp never needed to hone his focus. Through the years he did hone his game, and as he takes part in this weekends All-Star Game festivities hes evolved into a complete player who has earned superstar status.
With names like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa getting much of the national attention out of Chicago, Sharps sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. But those who were with him in Philadelphia when his pro career began beg to differ.
As someone whos coached against him, he doesn't get lost in the shuffle. He has become a 200-foot player, said former Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who was at the Philadelphia Flyers helm when Sharp was drafted and played for them in the early 2000s.
When he came to us from college, he had the reputation and the game and you could see that he was going to have the ability to score, Hitchcock said. The 200-foot game was something he had to learn and work on but he really did a great job.
Make no mistake: Sharps scoring touch is still tremendous. He already has more goals in 2010-11 (26) than he had all of last season (25) and hes been strong for the Blackhawks on the other side, too, especially on the penalty kill.
For Sharp, those early Philadephia days were a time of learning and growing, especially under Hitchcock.
He knows the real way and right way to play, Sharp said. Im thankful that I played under him for so many years. Id like to think I became a better player because of Hitch.
Sharp was selected in the third round (95th overall) by the Flyers in 2001. He split time between the Flyers and Phantoms during the 2003-04 season. But when the NHL locked out in 2004-05, Sharp played the entire season with the Phantoms.
Hitchcock said the biggest adjustment Sharp had to make wasnt so much his game, but the number he had to play once he hit the pros.
He was playing 36 games a year (at college) and the Phantoms played (nearly) 100 games when they won the Calder Cup in (2004-05). It was an adjustment, Hitchcock said. Just the level of play was one thing, but the amount of games and how many games there were every week was a real grind.
He apparently adjusted quick. Sharp was a big part of the Phantoms run to the Calder Trophy that season, scoring 23 goals in the regular season and eight more in the playoffs. Stevens said Sharp played in every situation for the Phantoms and started to develop his all-around game.
Stevens said he was also selfless. When Jeff Carter came into the Flyers organization and joined the Phantoms, Sharp was the teams No. 1 center. Sharp was asked to move to right wing to give Carter the top center job, and Stevens said Sharp was more than happy to do it.
Mike Haviland, now the Blackhawks assistant coach, first noticed Sharps development while coaching at Atlantic City and then Trenton in the East Coast Hockey League.
He understood what it took to be successful at this level, and its all three zones. He takes a lot of pride in not only scoring goals but also not getting scored upon, Haviland said. Hes made great strides in the defensive zone, especially moving from wing to the middle. Its not easy.
And if Sharp had a bad game during those formative pro years, he was harder on himself than anyone.
He was his own worst critic, Stevens said. It may have been misconstrued at first that he didnt care because he was quiet. He wanted to learn, wanted to work at his game. He did all of the things you want a young player to do. He took the right attitude and now were seeing the fruits of his labor.
But in December 2005 the Flyers traded Sharp to Chicago for forward Matt Ellison, who played little in Philadelphia before ending up overseas. A trade the Blackhawks obviously got the better of, Sharp and his new team seemed to mirror each other: both were about to break through and prosper.
Getting the chance to go to Chicago and play in every situation while the team was growing and building themselves really helped him, Hitchcock said. Without pressure he was able to go there and play and develop. The last couple of years when the team was ready to win, he was ready to play the complete game. He has just developed such a complete game now that he's dangerous offensively, trustworthy defensively.
And thats where Sharp is today. The All-Star nod was validation for how hard hes worked on his game. Its also something that puts him on the league-wide radar. Those who were with him in Philly knew he would be.
I know there are the Hossas and the Toews and Kanes, Hitchcock said. But Sharp has everyone's attention.
Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.