Brandon Saad couldn’t help but smile wide when asked about how it felt playing an NHL game in his hometown for the first time.
|Tribute on the Jumbotron. |
The Gibsonia native suited up for the Blackhawks in their preseason game against the Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center on Thursday – Chicago drafted Saad in the second round (43rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
The Penguins welcomed Saad, part of the biggest Pittsburgh area draft class in history, back to Western Pennsylvania with a video montage on the jumbotron that earned him a loud ovation.
“It was awesome,” he said of returning to Pittsburgh. “It’s awesome to play in any game in the NHL, but to be back home makes it more exciting.”
He admitted there were nerves entering the game, but enjoyed playing in the new arena in front of about 30 family members and friends against players like Penguins center Jordan Staal
– who he cheered for growing up.
“It was pretty neat,” Saad said, who wore No. 43. “I mean, there’s superstars out there. It’s tough to play against them, but exciting as well.”
He finished with two hits, one shot, one takeaway and a penalty in 16:36 minutes while skating with a myriad of linemates in Chicago’s 4-1 loss.
“I thought I played pretty well,” he said. “I was moving well out there. Unfortunately we lost, but what are you going to do.
|Brandon Saad during warmups. |
“I’m just trying to work hard day in and day out because there’s a lot of good players out there. Trying to challenge myself to get better.”
He’s currently the youngest player at Blackhawks training camp at 18 years old, but has wasted no time making an impression.
After a strong showing at Chicago’s prospect development camp, Saad paced the Blackhawks prospects with four goals and five points in three games at the 2011 rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ontario earlier this month, which the Penguins also participated in.
He’s carried his robust play into Blackhawks training camp, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaches.
“He’s had a real nice camp,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’ve liked him since Day 1 at the prospect camp in the summer, the rookie camp, our main camp and these NHL exhibition games.
“He looks like he belongs. I think his upside is right there. The puck seems to follow him around. You’ve got to commend him on how well he’s played.”