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Training Camp

Saad picks up where he left off with Blackhawks

Power forward back on top line after trade from Blue Jackets

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- It didn't take Brandon Saad long to feel comfortable wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey again.

After helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2013 and 2015 before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 24-year-old forward looked right at home in his first couple of days of training camp. Saad said he enjoyed his two seasons with the Blue Jackets, who traded him back to the Blackhawks on June 23, but Chicago is where his NHL career began.

"It's kind of like I never left," said Saad, who stepped back into his former role at left wing on the line centered by captain Jonathan Toews. "It's a different locker room now (after it was remodeled in 2015), but it's good to be back. You see some familiar faces, you're used to everything around the city and things like that, so I'm feeling pretty comfortable."

Saad, 24, has looked comfortable next to Toews during the first few scrimmages of training camp. Though Richard Panik has replaced Marian Hossa at right wing, the line is built on the same principles as the one Saad left behind after the Blackhawks traded him on June 30, 2015.

Saad and Panik are two-way power forwards capable of winning puck battles along the boards. They complement Toews, whose size and strength allow him to be a force around the net and low in the offensive zone.

Tweet from @NHLBlackhawks: "It's kind of like I never left."@BSaad20 is back in the #Blackhawks dressing room.

Toews put up strong offensive numbers with Saad as his left wing, but his totals dropped in the past two seasons without him. The Blackhawks, who traded high-scoring left wing Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets to reacquire Saad, are banking on Toews regaining his peak form. Based on the early stages of training camp, that looks like a possibility.

"I saw some things going on with that line that you can envision going forward with, whether it's their size, whether it's how they can read off one another or roll off pucks, or roll off checks and sustain pucks," coach Joel Quenneville said. "[Saad] gives us all those ingredients, and his quickness and speed is dangerous."

Saad had 53 points in each of the past two seasons with the Blue Jackets. In 2015-16, had an NHL career-high 31 goals and 22 assists in 78 games. Last season, he had 24 goals and 29 assists in 82 games, helping the Blue Jackets qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a Columbus-record 108 points.

Saad also had an NHL career-high plus-23 rating last season, up from plus-1 in 2015-16. That was reminiscent of his performance in 2013-14, when Saad had 47 points (19 goals, 28 assists) and a plus-20 rating in 78 games playing primarily with Toews and Hossa.

"I just try to stick to my game, but with [Toews], it's more of a down-low game," Saad said. "We have a big line and can protect the puck. When we have success, it's more [about] wearing teams down, down low, and taking our chances rather than playing off the rush."

Thus far, the biggest rush for Saad is just returning to the Blackhawks. He kept the idea of rejoining them at some point in the back of his mind, but the timetable for his return surprised even him.

"It's a quick two years," Saad said. "It goes quick, and to be back and be reunited with [Toews], it feels pretty good."

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