CHICAGO -- A combination of skill and versatility make Brandon Saad a valuable asset for the Chicago Blackhawks, who are prepared to lean heavily on the second-year forward to fill in for injured Marian Hossa.
Saad's two-way style is even starting to resemble Hossa's, so it's not too surprising he'll get the first look to fill the Blackhawks' vacant spot at right wing on the top line Tuesday night at United Center in a big game against the Colorado Avalanche.
After playing all of last season on the left side of that line, Saad has shifted around the lineup this season. He's played on both wings, on the second and third lines, and even dabbled a bit at center in training camp. That experience could now pay off in a pinch for the defending Stanley Cup champions, who expect to be without Hossa for 2-3 weeks.
"It's huge to have depth on a team," Saad said following Chicago's morning skate. "Injuries are going to happen, so I think with the team we have and the depth we have, it's why we had success before. To be able to fill those roles or take [people's] places as best you can, it's a huge help to the team."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville certainly appreciates it. The Blackhawks (36-12-14, 86 points) are in a tight three-team race in the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues (40-14-6, 86 points) and Avalanche (39-17-5, 83 points), with games against both teams on the horizon.
Until Hossa got injured in the first period of a 5-1 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins this past Saturday night, in the final game of the 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, Saad was on the right side of the third line. He moved up with Toews and Patrick Sharp in the final two periods and Quenneville liked what he saw.
"[Saad] gives us some versatility and gives us a presence on that line that all of a sudden is a threat to score," Quenneville said. "He makes people around him on that line very dangerous as well. He seems to adapt to whoever he plays with, kind of like [Patrick Kane], so in the middle of the game the other day there, he just stepped right in and did an outstanding job."
Looking at Saad's season numbers, you can see the Hossa comparisons forming.
In 62 games Saad has scored 18 goals, has 23 assists (41 points) and leads the team with a plus-27 rating. In 57 games, Hossa has scored 24 goals, has 26 assists (50 points) and has a plus-25 rating.
Quenneville said Saad will also soak up Hossa's role on the penalty kill, playing up high next to Toews. Chicago center Andrew Shaw will also shift to a new spot. He'll play right wing on the third line to make room for center Peter Regin to re-enter the lineup after being a healthy scratch against Pittsburgh.
The Avalanche, meanwhile, are healthy and ready to make a push to catch St. Louis and Chicago down the stretch.
"It's a big surprise to me," first-year Colorado coach Patrick Roy said. "I guess we didn't expect to be where we are [right now]. If someone [would've said] to me in September [that] we'll be three points behind the Hawks going into the last 21 games, I'd say, 'Where do I sign?' It's a bit of a surprise, but at the same time, this is the type of year we've been having."
Corey Crawford will start in net for the Blackhawks. Semyon Varlamov will start for the Avalanche. Here is how Colorado and Chicago might line up Tuesday night:
Ryan O'Reilly - Matt Duchene - PA Parenteau
Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - Nathan MacKinnon
Maxime Talbot - John Mitchell - Jamie McGinn
Cody McLeod - Marc-Andre Cliche - Patrick Bordeleau
Jan Hejda - Erik Johnson
Tyson Barrie - Nick Holden
Nate Guenin - Andre Benoit
Scratched: Ryan Wilson, Cory Sarich
Injured: Alex Tanguay (out for the season, knee/hip)
Patrick Sharp - Jonathan Toews - Brandon Saad
Kris Versteeg - Michal Handzus - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Peter Regin - Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Scratched: Sheldon Brookbank
Injured: Marian Hossa (upper body)