-- What's been speculated for almost a week now is a reality.
The Chicago Blackhawks
announced Tuesday they have signed 18-year old forward Brandon Saad
, a second-round pick at the 2011 Entry Draft, to a three-year, entry-level contract and that he'll start the season in the NHL -- beginning with Friday's season-opener against the Stars in Dallas.
The rookie likely will start the season at left wing on the team's top line, playing alongside center Jonathan Toews
and right wing Patrick Sharp
"I think for Brandon, it's been a journey here for him. I know it was chronicled that he was disappointed not to be a first-round pick and to his credit he kind of took that as a challenge. You have to credit him for his hard work and determination. He's earned a spot. That's a good story for us. We put him in a position to succeed and he seized it." -- Blackhawks' GM Stan Bowman
"It's pretty unbelievable," Saad said. "They're both great players and getting Sharp back in the lineup obviously helps. Just being able to work up and compete with them in practice helps a lot."
After impressing the Hawks at the summer prospect camp, followed by a standout showing at a prospect tournament in Oshawa, Ont., Saad continued his stellar play in training camp. A lower-body injury suffered by forward Viktor Stalberg
helped clear room on the roster to make it possible, but there's a chance Saad could stick in Chicago all season if he keeps impressing coach Joel Quenneville
and the front office.
Chicago has nine games to decide whether to keep Saad or send him back to his junior team, the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League. If Saad is sent back prior to playing his 10th game, it delays the start of his contract by one season. If he plays beyond his 10th game, he still can be returned to his junior team, but the first year of his contract would be wasted, and he can't be recalled except under emergency circumstances.
"I think for Brandon, it's been a journey here for him," Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman said. "I know it was chronicled that he was disappointed not to be a first-round pick and to his credit he kind of took that as a challenge. You have to credit him for his hard work and determination. He's earned a spot. That's a good story for us. We put him in a position to succeed and he seized it."
Saad also will become the first player since Colorado Avalanche
center Ryan O'Reilly
in 2009 selected outside the first round to make an NHL opening-night roster in his draft year. Prior to O'Reilly, the feat hadn't been accomplished since the 2003 draft/2003-04 season, when Patrice Bergeron
(second round, Boston), Dan Fritsche
(second round, Columbus), Lasse Kukkonen
(fifth round, Chicago) and Esa Pirnes
(sixth round, Los Angeles) each did it.
Saad said he's just starting to understand what he's accomplished so far.
"It's sinking in a little bit, but it's still that I'm just loving being here and I'm looking forward to Friday," Saad said. "I've always wanted to work to make the NHL and come in here with the right attitude and work hard. I didn't expect to make the team, but it's definitely something nice to have."