BUFFALO, N.Y. - Forward Evander Kane had a difficult time adjusting to playing in what he called "a fishbowl" of a hockey-mad city like Winnipeg, and felt a change of scenery was long overdue.
The fourth player selected in the 2009 draft will get the opportunity to enjoy a "fresh start" — a phrase Kane repeated three times during his introductory news conference Saturday — in Buffalo as a key piece on a Sabres team rebuilding from scratch.
"Sometimes things just don't work out," Kane said, of the five-plus seasons he spent with the Jets franchise, which relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg in 2011. "I'm looking forward to moving on to bigger and better things here in Buffalo."
For now, Kane will have to wait until next season. With his left arm in a sling, the 23-year-old is recovering from season-ending shoulder surgery earlier this month.
Though the operation was more complex than initially anticipated, Kane expects to be ready for the start of training camp in September.
Kane was the central figure for Buffalo in a seven-player trade struck on Feb. 11. The Sabres also acquired defenceman Zach Bogosian and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf. In exchange, they sent defenceman Tyler Myers, forward Drew Stafford, two prospects and their third of three first-round draft picks to the Jets.
Kane is a three-time 19-goal-scorer, and enjoyed his best season in 2011-12, when he had 30 goals and 27 assists. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he also provides a physical presence.
The trade was completed a little over a week after Kane and the Jets had the latest in a series of falling outs.
Kane, who openly questioned his tenure in Winnipeg last summer, was a healthy scratch for a game at Vancouver against his hometown Canucks on Feb. 3. A few days later, Kane elected to have surgery on a shoulder that had been bothering him for much of the season — and had popped out in a game against Philadelphia a week earlier.
Without going into detail, Kane disputed a report that he was benched because he showed up to a team meeting wearing a tracksuit. He did confirm he had asked to be traded, and added he had difficulty adjusting to Winnipeg after opening his career in Atlanta.
"Winnipeg is a very small town, but it's a big hockey market. It's a bit tougher than Vancouver or Toronto, where you can get away a little bit," Kane said. "Being a Winnipeg Jet was something that everybody knew who you were. They always wanted to talk to you, which is great."
And yet, he added: "Negative things can take a toll a little bit."
The Sabres are popular in Buffalo, but can also overshadowed by the Bills, especially during the NFL season.
Kane also made off-the-ice headlines. After signing a six-year, $31.5 million contract in 2012, Kane posted a picture on his Twitter account of himself holding a large wad of money to his ear as if it were a phone. Last year, Kane posted a picture of himself doing a pushup with stacks of money on his back.
"Let's just put it this way, I think I'm definitely excited to have a fresh start," Kane said.
The Sabres envision Kane playing a first-line role alongside Sam Reinhart, the No. 2 pick in last year's draft, and whomever they select in the draft in June. Already owning the NHL's worst record, the Sabres (17-38-4) would secure one of the first two draft picks — and the chance to select highly-regarded forward prospects Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel — if they finish last.
"He's going to be a big part of any success we have here, I believe." Sabres general manager Tim Murray said, referring to Kane, after making the trade.
Kane sees potential in the Sabres' rebuilding plan. After spending much of this season in a secondary role in Winnipeg, Kane is looking forward to the possibility of enjoying an expanded role.
"I think they're headed in the right direction," Kane said. "They have a lot of good young prospects. And obviously, getting a top pick will only speed that up."