CHICAGO -- On Wednesday morning, it still remained unclear how the Chicago Blackhawks could possibly keep impressive 18-year old rookie Brandon Saad with them to start the season.
Now the picture has become a little clearer, after injuries to forwards Viktor Stalberg, Ben Smith and Dave Bolland in a preseason game on Wednesday night against the rival Detroit Red Wings.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said Stalberg (lower body) is expected to be out three weeks after an apparent leg-to-leg collision with a Red Wings player, while Smith and Bolland are day-to-day with upper-body injuries.
Quenneville said Bolland's injury isn't related to his concussion from late last season, while Smith appeared to be knocked unconscious in the third period on Wednesday by a big hit from Detroit rookie defenseman Brendan Smith that earned him a game misconduct.
Smith was motionless on the ice for a brief time until a Hawks trainer came to his aide and eventually helped him skate off on his own power.
"Ben's okay … I guess okay," Quenneville said. "I don't want to put a timeline on him. (Stalberg) is probably out … we're looking at probably three weeks."
Chicago did get some good news on Thursday that star forward Patrick Sharp (appendectomy) continues to heal nicely. Quenneville said there's even "a likelihood he could join practice (Friday)."
Having Stalberg out for several weeks, however, could potentially open a spot for Saad to start the season in the NHL. Saad, taken by Chicago in the second round (No. 43) of the 2011 Entry Draft, has impressed Quenneville and the front office from the first day of prospects camp. Saad also stood out in the prospects tourney the Hawks attended and continued it in training camp -- where he's played in all of Chicago's preseason games thus far.
He's been shifting at wing on the top line with Chicago captain Jonathan Toews and Stalberg and catching attention.
"(Saad's) one of those guys who, every game you appreciate what he can do," Quenneville said. "Certainly he's playing on a wing with Johnny, which is kind of a nice thing for him at this stage of camp. He's been useful every single time we see him on the ice, so we'll see. He continues to impress us. He's got a chance (to make the team)."
Should the Blackhawks opt to keep Saad to start of the season, they would have just nine games before having to decide whether to send him back to the OHL's Saginaw Spirit, his junior team.
Saad's goal is to make that choice as difficult as possible.
"Being one of the younger guys here, I'm just coming in, working hard and trying to do what I can for them to keep me here," he said. "That's always been my goal. It's a lofty goal being a younger guy, but you want to play in the top league possible and that's what I'm trying to do."
Coaches and those in Chicago's hockey operations department aren't the only ones who are impressed. Toews, Chicago's captain, also likes what he's seen of Saad -- who's from Pittsburgh, Pa.
Toews and Patrick Kane have a good perspective on what the teenager is trying to do. Both came to Chicago as late teens and excelled with the Hawks, without playing in the minors first.
"I guess you just have to have the right mindset," Toews said. "You've got to have that confidence that you can play against (veterans) and fit right in. You have that respect for them in the locker room, but when you get out there on the ice it's anybody's game. It's all about finding that confidence inside of you, and obviously he's one of those guys who's shown he can do that. He's got the mindset to go out there and make plays at any level."
Other players who could potentially take Stalberg's place include 6-foot-8 defenseman John Scott, who also played some forward last season, and skilled 20-year old Jeremy Morin. Or it could be somebody else from a farm system of prospects that's suddenly gotten rich with talent.
"We'd like to see him play (in a preseason game), for sure, but time's running out on that one," Quenneville said of Morin. "We want him playing and we'll visit that at the right time. He looks good in practice and we like what he brings."