|Photo by Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks
Over a combined 101 games in the regular season and playoffs, Blackhawks fans were treated to some brilliant individual campaigns. As the team recuperates after a long season, here's a deeper look at some of the campaign's standouts.
Brandon Saad, the Blackhawks' resident "Man-Child," has done a lot of growing up on the ice since he made the opening day roster in 2011 just months after being drafted. At just 21, the Pittsburgh native has become an important member of the team's core of talented, dynamic forwards. Indeed, it's hard to imagine that 2013-14 was just Saad's first complete 82-game NHL season, but the numbers reveal a young power winger whose game is just beginning to take shape. (Stats courtesy of NHL.com and ExtraSkater.com.)
Age is just a number, but Saad has seemingly defied his youth over the last two seasons to become the fifth most productive forward on the roster, after Patricks Kane and Sharp, captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. During the regular season, he ranked fifth with a career-high 47 points (19G, 28G) and 159 shots on goal, and he has also skated the fifth-highest ice time among forwards for two seasons in a row. Should Hossa, 35, and Sharp, 32, experience declining numbers over the next few seasons, the continued development of homegrown stars like Saad will be paramount to maintaining the team's scoring depth. His numbers say he's on the right track.
Saad was one goal away from netting 20 in just his first full regular-season campaign, not exactly surprising after he scored 10 in 2012-13. However, he actually found the back of the net more often away from the United Center, scoring 13 times, fourth-most on the team. One possible explanation for this kind of split is Saad finding more room as opponents key in on his linemates, which could also explain his +19 shots on goal differential when on the road. He also wasn't alone: Kane tallied 39 of his 69 points away from the UC, so it's fair to say that both players were able to elevate their game in the harshest playing environments.
Saad's regular-season points-per-game average of 0.60 was pretty respectable, but that number jumped to 0.84 in the playoffs, which ranked third behind Kane and Toews. Part of the jump was due to finding instant chemistry with Kane and Andrew Shaw during the Western Conference Final, but it represented a significant increase over his PPG in 2012-13 (.48 in 69 games combined over the regular season and playoffs). Younger legs—along with a late-season wake-up call in the form of a healthy scratch—may have contributed to his freshness in the playoffs, but something must be said about consistency in usage despite the longer campaign. Here are two graphs depicting the jump in games between seasons, as well as a breakdown of his ice time.
There are many ways that players can give their teams an advantage, and drawing penalties is seen by many as an underrated skill. In that regard, Saad led the team last year, drawing 13 more penalties than he took—a testament to his speed and power along the boards and ability to get to the dangerous areas in front of the opponent's net. Saad continued the trend into the playoffs, where he posted a +3 penalty differential, sharing the team lead with Kane.
All of the elements of Saad's game—speed and power on the forecheck—contributed to some fantastic possession numbers in 2013-14, as the youngster again ranked fifth among team forwards (20+ GP) with a 57.7 percent share of on-ice shot attempts during the regular season. Compared to the team average, Saad's relative Corsi share (+2.0 percent) was also fifth-best among forwards; only Jeremy Morin (in limited appearances), Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell fared better than Saad in those categories.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville may have struck playoff gold when he grouped Saad, Shaw and Kane together to jumpstart his offense against the Los Angeles Kings. But the line combination wasn't merely a stab in the dark; Saad played 42.7 percent of his even-strength shifts during the regular season with "The Mutt," in addition to 34.1 percent with Kane. Those numbers are lower than his linemate splits in 2012-13, when he was a top-line staple alongside Toews and Hossa, which is a testament to his adaptability throughout the line combinations. Here is a comparison of Saad's most common linemates from last year and this year: