Success has followed Brandon Saad wherever he has laced up his skates, so it should come as no surprise that the 6-foot-1, 195-pound winger from Gibsonia, Pa. is regarded as a potential top-10 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.
Saad, 17, currently skating for the United States National Development program's Under-18 team, has caught the eye of many scouts, including Kyle Woodlief of Red Line Report, an independent scouting review.
"Saad has the potential to be a top-10 pick next year," Woodlief said. "He is a big, big boy and a power forward. He has all the tools."
That's great news for Pittsburgh area hockey, which is starting to churn out elite young prospects. One of Saad's teammates at the U.S. National Development program, defenseman Stephen Johns of Wampum, is rated a potential first-round pick for the 2010 NHL Draft.
|Photo Credit: Dave Arnold/USA Hockey |
As for Saad, his tools did not just emerge overnight for the gifted Saad. He honed them on many rinks throughout Western Pennsylvania while beginning his amateur career with the Butler Valley team located right down the road from his home in Pine-Richland. From there he progressed to the Junior Penguins and later to the Pittsburgh Hornets midget program.
Saad also starred during his one season playing for Pine-Richland as a freshman in 2008, leading the Rams all the way to a Penguin Cup victory at Mellon Arena thanks to his hat trick performance in the championship game. Not long after that game Saad was the 10th overall selection in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League draft by the Saginaw (Mich.) Spirit.
Instead of joining the Spirit Saad spent the 2008-09 season with Mahoning Valley of the North American Hockey League, where won that league’s rookie of the year award after registering 53 points (34G-19A) in 54 games and being named the North Division’s top prospect for 2009.
In addition to playing with Mahoning Valley Saad also spent seven games with the Under-17 team, including six games at the 2009 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Port Alberni, B.C. where he took home a bronze medal. Saad was named to the all-tournament team after tying for the team lead with nine points (4G-5A) in six games.
His performance in that tournament not only further opened the eyes of scouts around the hockey world, but it cemented his status on the Under-18 team this season.
“For a guy that big he just has all the tools,” Woodlief said. “He dominates at this level because he is physically that much more advanced than the other players his age he is playing against for the most part.
“He has a big frame. He is going to be a horse when he fills out. By the time he hits the NHL I would imagine he will be playing at about 215 pounds. He is a good, solid 6-foot-1.”
The 17-year-old has kept right on producing this season for the Under-18 team despite the fact that as an October 1992 birthday Saad was eligible to spend another season with the Under-17 squad. Saad has been one of the team’s top players with 19 points (7G-12A) in 26 games. His 0.73 points-per-game average is third-best on Team USA.
Woodlief is not surprised at the offensive numbers Saad is generating.
“He has really soft hands for a big man and a laser of a shot with a great release in the slot,” Woodlief said. “He doesn’t need much time or space to get his shot away. He is usually very accurate with it.”
Besides his natural ability, one reason Saad is able to fire his overpowering shot with such regularity is because he plays his off-wing on the right side despite being a left-handed shot. This allows him to always have his stick open for one-timers.
“That is a big part of it,” Saad said. “I played a lot on the left side growing up but when I got older they switched me up for that reason.
“I am most comfortable on the right side because that is what I have played most of my life.”
Unlike most young players, Saad’s game is more than just offense. While players his age tend to focus on their goal-scoring totals, Saad displays a well-rounded game predicated on possessing the puck below the goal line.
“He dominates down low below the circles cycling the puck,” Woodlief said. “It is very tough to separate him from the puck. He is very strong on his stick and skates.
“When he wants to take the puck down low to cycle it there aren’t too many people who are going to take it from him.”
And when Saad emerges from cycles and puck-battles with possession of the biscuit, he knows exactly where to take it.
“He can just drag guys on his back straight to the net,” Woodlief said. He wins all those one-on-one battles in the corner. He out-muscles guys along the walls. You can’t move him in front of the net.”
As his season reaches the midpoint Saad is unsure what his plans are for next season. He can either remain with the Under-18 team for a second season to leave open his option to head to college the following season or he can join Saginaw of the OHL, which still owns his rights. He says he will wait until the end of the season to make a decision.
“I am still 50-50 on whether I want to go to college or to the OHL,” Saad said. “I am still not sure what I want to do. Towards the end of this year I will figure it out and make a decision then.
“I am not too worried about that now. I am just focused on what is ahead and then at the end of the season I will figure it out what I want to do.”