In a fitting turn of events, Blackhawks rookie Brandon Saad will likely end the 2011-12 season where he started it: in Chicago, wearing a Blackhawks sweater.
With Marian Hossa out of commission following the collision with Phoenix's Raffi Torres and Andrew Shaw serving a suspension, the Blackhawks coaching staff called the 19-year-old winger to Chicago Tuesday night after Game 3. He practiced on United Center ice Wednesday morning and will likely be in the lineup for Game 4 against the Coyotes on Thursday night.
“We know what he can do,” said Head Coach Joel Quenneville Wednesday. “Offensively, he gives us some nice assets and a nice opportunity to have some skill, and he can complement some guys with skill as well. The puck seems to follow him around; he protects it pretty well.”
After his two-game stint with the Blackhawks to begin the regular season, Saad returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit and became a dominating force. In 44 games with Saginaw, Saad recorded 76 points (34G, 42A), tied for second-best on the Spirit and among the top-20 in the league. His 1.73 points-per-game average was the highest in the league.
In the OHL Playoffs, he led Saginaw with 17 points (8G, 9A) in 12 games, the third-highest point total at the time the Spirit were eliminated.
“It was a great year,” said Saad. “I went back to Saginaw, and we weren’t the best team on paper, but we played really well. Being here [for two games] helped tremendously with my OHL season. I went back and led the way there, and I’m glad to be back now.”
Saad’s game improved at the junior level, and Quenneville noted how the 2011 draft pick had developed physically as well.
“Just looking at him today, there was a remarkable difference in him [compared to earlier this season],” Quenneville said. “From training camp and the stint he had at the start of the season, he’s grown and filled out. He looks bigger.”
Joining the heat of a Stanley Cup Playoffs series, Saad is prepared to match the intensity and urgency that the Blackhawks and Coyotes have displayed so far.
“It’d be awesome,” he said. “It’s what I dream of. I want to make the NHL and play. I got a taste of it at the start of the season, and playoff hockey would be awesome to be a part of.”