Brandon Saad wasn't born when the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated the second of back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1992.
|Gibsonia native Brandon Saad is NHL Central Scouting's No. 2-ranked OHL prospect in the preliminary rankings released on Nov. 16. |
However, the residue of those championships and the players who made it all possible ultimately had a profound impact on Saad and a few other Pittsburgh area hockey players.
"There have been a bunch of stars in Pittsburgh, including Mario (Lemieux) and Sid (Crosby), and they all helped in really promoting the game in this area," Saad told NHL.com. "As I got older, more people from the area began paying more attention to the sport, and for guys like me, we just had a lot of fun with it."
Saad was like any other adolescent growing up in Gibsonia, Pa., playing baseball, soccer, football and, of course, hockey. He had a special gift for the latter, once starring for Pine Richland High School in the Penguins Cup championship at Mellon Arena. Now he's become one of the more intriguing prospects for the 2011 Entry Draft while playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 6-foot-1 1/4, 208-pound left wing is the No. 2-rated OHL prospect in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ratings, which were released Nov. 16.
There's a good chance Saad not only will be the first U.S.-born player chosen at the 2011 Draft, but the first Pittsburgh-area native to be selected in the opening round since Plum's R.J. Umberger went No. 16 overall to the Vancouver Canucks in 2001.
"That's a pretty big honor, but nothing that I'd look too much into," Saad said. "I still have to work hard and play my game. The draft is a big moment in people's lives and it'll be something special, but I don't look at it and focus on it too much."
Saad might not be the only Pittsburgh-area player to have his name called at the Entry Draft this spring. Pittsburgh forward Vince Trocheck, Moon forward Jonathan Miller, Whitehall goalie John Gibson and Upper St. Clair defenseman Barrett Kaib also are strong candidates.
Trocheck, rated No. 5 on Central Scouting's OHL list, plays on the top line alongside Saad in Saginaw.
"Me and Brandon have clicked a lot more lately and it's a great experience to play with a player like that," Trocheck said. "He's really smart and has great skill and talent."
After notching 34 goals and 53 points in 54 games with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American Hockey League, Saad joined the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2009-10 and had 29 goals and 29 assists in 63 games before heading to Saginaw.
The Spirit, who drafted Saad in the first round (No. 10) of the 2008 OHL draft, hoped to have him for the 2008-09 season, but now are reaping the benefits of his development.
"Obviously, there's some change coming into a new league with the pace and the tempo, but with the team we have this year and the staff and coaches involved, it's been a really smooth transition for me," Saad said. "It was tough leaving the NTDP, I was back and forth a couple of times. In the end, I want to be an NHL player and get there as quick as possible and the OHL has produced and shown in the past that they can do that."
Saad leads the Spirit with 26 points and is second with 15 goals in 21 games. He said the training he received with the USNTDP has been vital to his success this season.
"That's one of the main reasons I didn't jump into the OHL last year," Saad said. "I figured I'd go into (the USNTDP) and compete for a gold medal overseas and do the training. That helped my confidence and my strength."
Trocheck, born and raised in Pittsburgh before moving to Detroit at age 13 to play for Little Caesar's Midget Major AAA team, had considered the NCAA route, but reconsidered after signing with Saginaw in May 2009. The 5-10, 184-pound center probably would have attended either Miami (Ohio) or Michigan if he opted for the NCAA.
"The way I look at it, ever since I was young, I was always overlooked or not at the top of everyone's list, but I knew that with effort, the points would come," Trocheck said. "I try and keep the draft out of my mind as much as possible, but it's always there a little bit. I know that with team success will come individual success, so that's what I'm focused on … helping our team contend for an OHL and possible Memorial Cup championship."
Trocheck is right behind Saad in scoring with 25 points in 22 games. Last season, he had 15 goals, 43 points and 56 penalty minutes in 68 games.
"Vince and Brandon have jelled well together and they play on the top power-play unit," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "Vince is the type of player who is around the puck all game, he creates scoring chances by winning puck battles and making good passes. He plays a high-energy, two-way game."
Miller, No. 2 on Central Scouting's list of the top USHL skaters, has 2 goals, 13 points and 38 penalty minutes in 17 games for the USNTDP Under-18 team. He has 2 goals and 5 points in four international contests.
"I consider myself a power forward … an energy guy with some skill and ability to get it done physically," Miller said.
Gibson, the top-rated goalie on Central Scouting's USHL list, is 4-5-1 with a 3.27 goals-against average and .908 save percentage for the USNTDP U-18 team. Along with Saad and Trocheck, Gibson also played for the Pittsburgh Hornets as a 15-year-old.
"He has good net coverage, good size and is great on his angles," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He looks big in his initial set-up and while in butterfly. He's not flashy but confident and is always focused, controlled in his movements, strong in his crease and smart at reading plays."
Kaib, a 5-9 1/2, 188-pound defenseman, has 5 assists and 27 penalty minutes with the USNTDP U-18 team. In 34 games last season with the Under-17 team, he had 5 assists, 6 points and 57 penalty minutes.
Kaib, Miller and Gibson helped the U.S. claim its second straight Under-18 Four Nations Cup in Sundsvall, Sweden, last week with against Finland, Switzerland and Sweden by a combined score of 15-9.